21 October, 2008
Medical card changes
That's the only word I can use to respond to the hurt and difficulty suffered by so many older people and their families over the last week.
The changes announced this morning (Tuesday 21 October 2008) have involved raising the income limits to €700 per week (€36,500 pa) or €1,400 per week (€73,000 pa) for a couple. Older people on this income or under will receive a full medical card. In addition, those with incomes above the threshold experiencing difficulty in meeting their medical needs will be eligible to apply for a medical card under the discretionary medical card scheme.
A huge amount of the debate in my head has been about means testing. Just what should the State provide to everyone, regardless of their income or assets? Whether we like it or not, that answer has to change, depending on the state of the economy.
One thing is certain; this is only the beginning of a huge challenge to tackle the economic difficulties of Ireland Inc. There may be a ten billion hole in the finances, and the hundred million euro mentioned in the context of medical cards is perhaps only 1% of the gap in the nation's finances that will need to be filled in the near future.
It begs the question as to whether we should continue to provide tax relief at source on mortgages and also on private medical insurance. The sooner we have a full reality check on the state of the nation’s finances, the quicker we’ll recover.
People have remarked on Brian Cowen’s ability to hold the line in the past, but this issue was different. This was unscripted, un-choreographed and straight from the heart. Many of the phone calls and emails have been from people who had difficulty sleeping since Budget day; people who have a State Pension, and sometimes only €2500 or even under €500 a year on top of that. Ironically, many women have small pensions because they had to leave their jobs due the marriage ban and only returned to work when that was reversed. That means they only contributed to a private pension for the last ten or fifteen years of their working life. Their pensions are small, and their fears are real.
I hope that today’s changes go some way towards meeting their concerns.