17,000 elderly have lost their medical cards
AROUND 17,000 pensioners have lost their medical cards since Brian Lenihan abolished the automatic entitlement for over-70s.
Most of the wealthy OAPs admitted to being over the threshold introduced in January 2009, but some 5,000 were caught out by a HSE audit.
Despite the controversial move to cut off some older people from the system, 343,399 over-70s are still automatically getting free services at their GP, chemists and hospitals.
Thousands of OAPs marched on Leinster House in October 2008 after a Budget decision to revoke the automatic right.
The silver revolution led the Finance Minister to raise the thresholds to a rate that would see the vast majority of pensioners keep their entitlements.
However, reacting to the fact that 17,000 people had lost out, Fine Gael's health spokesperson Dr James Reilly maintained that the move was a mistake.
"I thought it was a retrograde step because many people may very well not attend their doctor straight away now or not buy their medicines," he said.
"If they end up in hospital it will be costing more."
When the Government took the decision, it was estimated that 20,000 would lose eligibility.
People aged 70 or over continue to qualify for a medical card if their gross income is less than €700 per week for a single person and €1,400 for a couple.
Following the introduction of the plan, the HSE wrote to all medical card holders aged 70 or over in January 2009 advising them to complete a return slip if they were over the threshold for a medical card.
Approximately 12,000 OAPs volunteered information that saw they removed from the HSE's medical card register.
Health Minister Mary Harney said: "In addition, approximately 5,000 medical cards for persons aged 70 or over were removed from the medical card register in 2009 as part of the HSE's medical card data quality exercise."
Dr Reilly said that under Fine Gael's plans, the health system would change to ensure that everybody would be able to gain easy access to medical attention.
"People are living longer. We should be focusing on chronic illness care and prevention because if you don't you will end up spending more at the other end," he said. "It does pay to keep people healthy."