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Health Bill regressive and unpatriotic – Ó Caoláin

10 December, 2008 - by Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin TD

Sinn Féin Dáil leader Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin TD called on the Dáil to decline a second hearing for the Health Bill 2008. Deputy Ó Caoláin said the Bill seeks to implement one of the most callous, ill-considered and bungled decisions ever made by a Government in this State.

He said, "Sinn Féin is totally opposed to this Bill. It seeks to implement one of the most callous, ill-considered and bungled decisions ever made by a Government in this State.

"With great fanfare a Fianna Fáil-led government provided automatic entitlement to the medical card for everyone over 70 and they never ceased to boast of the benefits they had provided to older people, of which this was the centre-piece. Then in a rushed Budget they revealed again the fundamentally flawed approach that underpins so much of their policy. That approach sees vital public services not as rights but as benefits or favours which can be given and taken away at will.

"Still on the issue of costs and savings, in the Seanad on 29 October the Minister stated that there were 10,000 more recipients of over-70s medical cards than there were over-70s in the State. "That is probably because people have passed away who are still factored into the equation," she said. What a damning indictment of the Minister, her Department and the HSE that for all their bureaucracy they have been unable to ensure that GPs were not being paid medical card fees for thousands of deceased patients.

"The Bill is a most retrograde step. It flagrantly breaks the commitment made in the Fianna Fáil/Green/PD Programme for Government which actually promises to extend the medical card.

"The partial climb-down by the Government does not go far enough. Universal medical card entitlement for the over 70s should be fully restored. I commend senior citizens for making their voices heard so loudly and so clearly. They rocked this Government and led to the partial climb-down which, I stress again, does not restore the right that has been taken away.

"We in Sinn Féin approach this issue from a point of principle and on the basis of healthcare as a right. We say that access to health services should be based on medical need and medical need alone. We want to see this State moving towards a universal public health system where all citizens would be entitled to healthcare services free at the point of delivery. This Bill moves in the opposite direction.

"We want to see a universal system funded from fair and progressive taxation because we believe that when people are working they pay their taxes so decent public services can be provided for them and for their families. They pay taxes to ensure that they are provided for in old age and that all children, and all those who are unable to work or are out of work, are properly looked after.

"We are constantly challenged when we call for better health services and wider entitlement. 'Who will pay for this?' The question should be 'Who paid for this?' and the answer is 'The pensioners of Ireland. They paid for a decent health service in taxes during their working lives.'

"If the Government is looking for savings then instead of taking away medical cards let them take away tax breaks from the developers of private hospitals. That tax break cost €10.6 million in 2006 and that saving alone would have funded 6,000 extra medical cards. We don't yet know the figures for 2007 and 2008.

"Finance Minister Lenihan said his Budget was a 'call to patriotic action'. Minister Lenihan and Minister Harney should recall the patriotism of our senior citizens who worked all their lives, who paid taxes at much higher rates than people paid during the Celtic Tiger years, who made sacrifices so that their children and their grandchildren could enjoy a better Ireland. And their reward is this regressive and unpatriotic Bill. We reject it and we urge every Deputy with a conscience in this Dáil to reject it also." ENDS

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