Written Answers. - Medical Cards.

Bernard Allen

Ceist:

330 Mr. Allen asked the Minister for Health and Children his plans to extend the distribution of medical cards to those under five years of age. [27824/01]

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 other than for persons aged 70 years and over who are automatically eligible for a medical card. 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. However, 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-her medical needs or other circumstances would justify this. It is open to all persons to apply to the chief executive officer of the appropriate health board if they are unable to provide health services for themselves or their dependants without hardship.

The Deputy may be aware that under the Programme for Prosperity and Fairness, a commitment was given that the health board chief executive officers would examine the operation of the medical card scheme in consultation with the social partners. This review has been completed recently and I understand that the chief executive officers will present a report of their findings to my Department shortly. This report will be considered as part of the existing examination of the issue of eligibility that is taking place in the context of the new health strategy.