Written Answers. - Medical Cards.

Eamon Gilmore

Ceist:

92 Mr. Gilmore asked the Minister for Health and Children if it is proposed to extend the medical card scheme to second and third level students, irrespective of parental income; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [17558/01]

Entitlement to health services in Ireland is primarily based on means. Under the Health Act, 1970, determination of eligibility for medical cards is the responsibility of the chief executive officer of the appropriate health board. Medical cards are issued to persons who, in the opinion of the chief executive officer, are unable to provide general practitioner medical and surgical services for themselves and their dependants without undue hardship.

Income guidelines are drawn up to assist in the determination of a person's eligibility and these are revised annually in line with the consumer price index. The guidelines are not statutorily binding and even though a person's income exceeds the guidelines, a medical card may still be awarded if the chief executive officer considers that his or her medical needs or other circumstances would justify this. Medical cards may also be awarded to individual family members on this basis. It is open to all persons to apply to the chief executive officer of the appropriate health board for health services if they are unable to provide these services for themselves or their dependants without hardship.

Persons aged 16 upwards, including students, who are dependants of a person who is not a medical card holder are not normally entitled to a medical card. Students who are financially independent are entitled to apply for a medical card in their own right and are assessed on the same income criteria as all other applicants.
The Deputy may be aware that under the Programme for Prosperity and Fairness, the health board chief executive officers are examining the operation of the medical card scheme in consultation with the social partners. Particular emphasis is being placed on the needs of families with children and on removing anomalies and barriers to take-up, including information deficits. The review is expected to be completed mid-year.
In addition, the whole issue of eligibility is being examined in the context of the new health strategy that is currently being prepared in my Department and is expected to be completed mid-year.