Budget wields medical card axe

  • Niall Hunter, Editor

The income threshold for qualification for a full medical card for over 70s has now been lowered to €900 per week for couples and €500 per single person, Public Expenditure Minsiter Brehdan Howlin announced in his Budget speech.

The income thresholds for over 70s cards were reduced to €600 per week for a single person and €1,200 for a couple in last year's Budget.

Around 35,000 older people are expected to lose full medical cards under this measure, although they will still qualify for doctor visit cards.

As expected, prescription charges per item for medical card patients will be increased to €2.50, with a €25 cap.

In another savings measure, medical cards holders can no longer retain their cards on return to work and those returning will get a GP visit card instead.

In addition, additional free drugs are to be 'delisted' from the medical card scheme.

GP visit cards providing free care for children five and under are to be introduced at a cost of €37 million.

A total of €666 million in health savings measures will be needed in 2014.

A total of €50 million is to be saved next year through generic substitution and reference pricing for drugs on State schemes.

New public hospital charges for private beds are to be introduced in the new year, generating an estimated €30 million in income. This will lead to all private patients in public hospitals being charged whether they occupy a private or public bed.

The targets for public sector employment numbers next year will be adjusted to allow for additional scope for extra staff in health and other areas to be appointed, Minister Howlin told the Dail.

Tax relief on medical insurance premium payments is being limited to €1,000 per adult per year and €500 per child, Finance Minister Michael Noonan told the Dail.

This is aimed at reducing relief on the more expensive 'gold-plated' insurance policies, Minister Noonan said.

There will be a 10 cent price increase on a pack of cigarettes and 10 cents on a pint of beer/cider and standard spirits measure, and the excise duty on wine has been increased by 50 cents.

In another Budget provision, it was announced that all lump sum payments compensation payments made to victims of the Magdalene Laundries will be tax-exempt.

The Minister said there would be no increase in income tax rates or VAT rates next year.

Minister Brendan Howlin, announcing Budget spending measures , said medical card numbers had increased by 40% since 2008.

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