Independent TD Mattie McGrath has described the leaked budget proposal to extend free GP Medical Card services to all children under five as an act of sheer political opportunism designed to deflect the public away from the implementation of devastating cuts to Medical Card eligibility.
Deputy McGrath was speaking as the news that the Department of Health has secured the concession has met with a deeply mixed public reaction.
“The Irish Medical Organisation has already explicitly warned that the planned expansion of the medical card scheme to some categories of patient must not come at the expense of low income groups who rely on medical cards; and yet this is exactly what the Minister is doing. The Labour Party in particular are grasping at any straw that they can take back to their utterly disillusioned voters, which they can then claim as a victory for them in Government. People have not forgotten that this is a Government which has already had to abandon a key election commitment to extend free GP care to almost 60,000 people with long-term illnesses. That plan, proposed as a first step on the way to free GP care for all, was supposed to have been introduced by March 2012, and yet where is it now? A little under half of all five year olds in the country, 47.8%, already have access to medical cards and what this measure will do if it is introduced is extend that provision to children of parents who by and large will not suffer crippling costs if their child needs GP care.”
The programme for Government contains a commitment to introduce free primary care for people with long-term illnesses within the first year. However, this deadline was missed as was a second deadline to extend the scheme further to people on the High-Tech drugs scheme. No legislation has been published despite repeated promises that its introduction was imminent:
“No one is suggesting that all our citizens should not have access to a GP if and when they need it. The question here concerns why should those least able to afford that access be denied it to supplement those children whose parents are of already sufficient means? In June we witnessed the scandal of enormous waste and value- for-money failings across key areas of the HSE such as staffing, patient transport, drug payments and computer systems; yet we hear little or nothing about what is being done to stop this haemorrhaging of money which if resolved could easily lead to an immediate reduction in the denial of discretionary medical cards for instance. This is a badly thought out plan that will hurt more people than it will help due to the obvious need to make the eligibility criteria for other applicants more onerous. I would strongly urge all involved in the roll out of this counter-productive plan to seriously reconsider its implementation and to look again at more equitable and effective policy options,” said Deputy McGrath.