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Clarity needed from Government on future of medical card scheme – Ó Caoláin

2 October, 2008

Sinn Féin Dáil leader and spokesperson on Health & Children Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin TD has called for clarity from the Government on the future of the medical card scheme. He said kite-flying on the abolition of the over-70s medical card is causing widespread concern and confusion and showed the lack of consistency and the inequity at the heart of Government health policy.

Deputy Ó Caoláin has also highlighted the fact that a Government tax subsidy to the developers of private hospitals rose by more than 500% in the space of two years.

Deputy O Caolain said:

"The Government has brought in emergency legislation in order to restore confidence in financial markets. But what about public confidence in State services? The Government has been flying a kite for the past week that the automatic entitlement of the over-70s to the medical card will be ended. This has caused huge concern among older people - many of whom believe that their medical cards are going to be taken away. At the same time we have more and more people becoming entitled every week to the medical card as the unemployment rate increases. What is the Government going to do to guarantee services to which these medical card patients are entitled?

"Already we are seeing widespread cutbacks, including the cutting of home help hours for older people. In one HSE area older people have been sent letters asking them for a €5 contribution to pay for home help.

"When the over-70s non-means-tested medical card was introduced we in Sinn Féin asked why the same principle was not applied to people under 18, to people with a range of medical conditions or, indeed, to all citizens. Now we find the Government considering withdrawing this scheme. It is a glaring example of the slap-dash approach of this Government to the most important public service for which it is responsible - our healthcare system.

"In reply to a Dáil Question from me on 24 September the Minister for Health & Children Mary Harney has stated that the cost to the Exchequer of tax foregone in capital allowances to the developers of private hospitals rose from €1.9 million in 2004 to €10.6 million in 2006, with figures for 2007 not yet available. This Government tax subsidy to the private for-profit health business thus grew by more than 500% in the space of two years.

"Sinn Féin demands clarity from the Government about its true intentions for our public health services as it proceeds with cuts and privatisation. We will continue to oppose cuts and to demand a truly equitable health service with access for all on the basis of need alone." ENDS

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