GP card move no replacement for full medical cards
So the Government - in its infinite wisdom - has decided that all people aged over 70 will now be entitled to free GP care by way of GP visit cards.
Taoiseach Enda Kenny quietly made the somewhat surprising announcement this week in the Dáil following discussions with Labour leader Joan Burton.
People aged over 70 were entitled to a medical card once their gross income did not exceed €500 a week for a single person or €900 for a couple.
They were entitled to a GP visit card if their income was over €500 but less than €700 for a single person, and €1,400 for a couple.
This is much more generous than the medical/GP visit card eligibility criteria for those aged under 70.
Many would argue that there are far more cash-strapped individuals and families that could do with a medical card or GP card instead of this older group.
Furthermore, the entire population is supposed to have free GP care by 2016 anyway under the planned universal health insurance plan, so why the need for this latest announcement?
There have been many reports in recent months of patients aged over 70 with serious medical conditions who had discretionary medical cards taken away from them.
This of course led to plenty of bad publicity for the Government, who were surprised at this "unintended consequence" of the HSE implementing agreed policy.
While thousands are now having their discretionary cards returned after the recent row back on that debacle, the Taoiseach's decision to give the rest of the over 70s free GP care seems, on the face of it, a very generous move.
However, GP visit cards are cheaper for the HSE to provide than full medical cards.
Ask anyone in this age group what they really want and they will tell you a full medical card, as it is the cost of medications, nursing and other community services that only a medical card can provide.
All this chopping and changing makes a mockery of the supposed healthcare reform programme the Department of Health and HSE are implementing under the Programme for Government.
"Kick up enough fuss and you can change what you want to" seems to be new message from central Government.
It is also quite embarrassing for the Health Minister of the day that they cannot deliver such a coup yet a different minister with nothing to do with health can.
Plus the HSE is expected to run over budget by €500 million this year. Where exactly is the money supposed to come from?
Of course those who have to deliver this care, GPs, have not been party to this major change.
The Irish Medical Organisation says that GPs are overstretched and under-resourced. They argue that priority must be given to providing services to those most in need. They are right.
But to be fair to the Government it has had other very important issues to consider in the last week.
Chief amongst these are a wealthy American singer not getting his desired five shows at Croke Park, a situation which has warranted much Dáil attention, wall-to-wall media coverage and even suggestions of emergency legislation.
Alas no such suggestions for surrogacy, IVF or stem cell research, which all currently exist in a legal limbo in Ireland and have done so for many years. Priorities, huh?