Major new medical card charges, public nursing home closures, and scuppering the plan to bring in free GP care for some patients next year are among swingeing health cut measures being considered by the Cabinet.
The Government is considering:
*Quadrupling the current 50 cent per item medical card prescription charge to €2.
*Introducing a €50 annual charge for medical card holders.
*Closing over 800 public nursing home beds.
*Shelving plans, announced only last week, to give free GP care to those on the long-term illness scheme from next year.
The Government is also believed to be considering cuts in mental health and in home help. It is also rumoured that some people may have their full medical cards taken away and replaced by doctor visit-only cards.
The cuts, if implemented can be expected to cause public uproar on the scale of the protests in 2009 over the decision, subsequently watered down, to means test medical cards for the over 70s.
The quadrupling of the prescription charge and the new €50 charge, if implemented, would also do serious damage to the political credibility of Health Minister James Reilly, who back in March promised to abolish the prescription charge introduced last year by Mary Harney.
Prescription charges currently generate nearly €30 million per year in revenue.
Also, abandoning the plan to start phasing in GP care, only a week after it was announced that it would go ahead from next year, would cast doubt on the Government's commitment to reforming the healthcare eligibility system.
The Government has promised to introduce free GP care for all by 2015, followed by a universal health insurance system, whereby everyone will be insured and will have equal access to healthcare.
It will not become clear until Budget day next month how many of todays 'kite-flying' proposals will be fully implemented.
However, Dr Reilly recently said he would do his best at Cabinet to minimise as much as possible the effect of health cuts next year.
He has previously indicated that around €500 million will be taken out of the health budget next year, following a €1 billion cut this year.
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