Tuesday, 2 July 2019

Questions (385)

Thomas P. Broughan


385. Deputy Thomas P. Broughan asked the Minister for Health his views on the need to increase medical card income thresholds for lower income families with children to ensure prompt treatment for the medical needs of all those children in view of the fact that these income limits have not been reviewed in almost 15 years and in the context of budget 2020; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27565/19]

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Written answers (Question to Health)

Medical card provision is primarily based on financial assessment. In accordance with the provisions of the Health Act 1970 (as amended), eligibility for a medical card is determined by the Health Service Executive (HSE). The HSE issues income guidelines to assist in determining entitlement to medical and GP visit cards. Any revision to the income thresholds must have regard for Government policy, increases in the Consumer Price Index and other issues which may be relevant. While there are no plans at present to revise the income thresholds for medical cards, it is vitally important that the medical card system is responsive and considerate to people's needs and circumstances. In that regard my Department keeps medical card issues, including existing thresholds under constant review. Any new policy measures regarding income thresholds for either medical cards or GP visit cards to be incorporated into the forthcoming Budget will be considered by Government as part of the 2020 Estimates process.

A number of measures have been introduced in recent years to improve access to free GP care and other health services. Since July 2015, all children under 18 years of age with a diagnosis of cancer are awarded a medical card. This card is valid for a period of 5 years. Since July 2017, all children under the age of 16 for whom a Domiciliary Care Allowance is paid also has automatic eligibility for a medical card.

Children aged under 6 years and individuals over 70 and those in receipt of a Carer's Allowance or Carer's Benefit are now automatically eligible for a GP visit card. Most recently in April of this year, a 10% increase was applied across all GP Visit Card income thresholds enabling more people to access free GP care.

In context of the above, it is important to note that approximately 42.8% of the population now have access to free GP care. In addition, if a person's sole income is derived from a social welfare payment, even where this payment is in excess of the current income thresholds, the person will be awarded a medical card.