(Jan. 12, 2009) Ireland does not have a national health care system or a national health insurance program in which all citizens are automatically enrolled. However, Ireland does offer medical cards to certain groups of persons considered to have special needs. These medical cards are used by their holders to pay for all or a substantial portion of their medical costs. Children, students, and persons with low incomes are included. Until recently, another group that was automatically entitled to medical cards was persons aged 70 and older. (Citizens Information website, http://www.citizensinformation.ie/categories/health/entitlement-to-health-services (last visited Jan. 7, 2008) [choose “Medical cards”].)
In an effort to reduce spending, the government has decided to introduce a means test for persons in this category. On December 12, 2008, the Health Bill 2008 was passed by Ireland's upper legislative house, the Seanad Éireann. The Bill had previously been passed by the lower house, the Dáil Éireann. (Health Bill Passed in the Seanad, RTE NEWS, Dec. 12, 2008, available at http://www.rte.ie/news/2008/1212/health.html.) The Department of Health and Children has published both the Health Bill 2008 (http://www.dohc.ie/publications/health_bill2008.html (last visited Dec. 30, 2008)) and Questions and Answers (http://www.dohc.ie/press/releases/2008/20081205.html (last visited Dec. 30, 2008)). The latter explains that the Bill will require single persons over the age of 70 to declare whether they have gross incomes of over €700 (about US$963) a week and married couples if they have gross incomes of over €1,400 a week. There are some exceptions for persons receiving compensation for certain illnesses, redresses, and repayments. However, most persons receiving gross income in excess of the thresholds will be ineligible to have their medical cards renewed.
The introduction of a means test into the system of medical cards for the aged was strongly protested against by some members of the opposition. (Senan Molony, Patricia McDonagh, & Caitrina Cody, Fury as TDs Vote to Curb Card for over-70s, IRISH INDEPENDENT, Dec. 12, 2008, LEXIS/NEXIS, News Library, 60 Days File.) The government contends that cuts in health care spending are necessary and that it will be able to return to issuing medical cards to all persons over the age of 70 when the economic situation improves. (RTE NEWS, supra.)