Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Ireland-Government Surrenders on Medical Cards for Over 70s(Grey Voters flex muscles)

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This TV3 video features a pensioners rally in Dublin to oppose the governments decision to remove automatic entitlement to medical cards for the over 70s. This video speaks for itself. Government representatives who attempted to address the meeting were prevented from speaking. Opposition leaders Enda Kenny and Eamon Gilmore were loudly applauded.The venue for the meeting had to be moved from a city hotel to nearby St Andrew's Church in Westland Row to accommodate the numbers.

The meeting unanimously passed a motion calling on the Government to reverse its decision to end universal entitlement for medical cards for all over 70s.

Last Tuesday the FF/Green/PD government withdrew automatic entitlement to a Medical Card for all over 70s . Means testing was to be introduced to determine entitlement. In the course of the budget speech some FG and Labour Party TDs already realised that the government had committed a huge political blunder. There was an immediate outcry from the elderly and from organizations representing them. The decision struck terror into large numbers of pensioners. I have never encountered such fury among pensioners. The FG and Labour parties launched a ferocious attack on the measures in the Dail. Within 24 hours of the announcement some TDs in the government parties and indeed some ministers such as Brian Lenihan began to wobble. In addition independent TDs such as Michael Lowry and Finian McGrath declared that they could not support the measures. FF TD Joe Behan resigned from the party.

The pressure continued to build. A vote on an FG private members motion in the Dail seeking the restoration of the entitlement to all over 70s was due on tomorrow night. There was no certainty that the government could vote down the motion. Today the government caved in and raised the threshold levels so as to ensure that only the top 5% of pensioners would be deprived of the card. The new income thresholds for qualification for a medical card for over-70s are €700pw for a single person, equivalent to €36,500pa, and €1,400pw for a couple, or €73,000pa.
Existing medical card holders will not have to undergo a means test. Instead, they will be asked to notify the Health Service Executive if they are over the income threshold. 20,000 people will lose their medical cards.
People who currently have a medical card and who are over the new income threshold will not keep their medical card after 1 January, under legislation to be brought forward.

However the fury has not abated as the principle of universality has been breached. Serious damage has been done to the authority of the government and to the leadership of Brian Cowen. This episode has seriously eroded the authority of Mary Harney as Minister for Health. The grey vote has flexed its muscles in no uncertain terms and will grow in importance as the population ages. Many pensioners were terrified by the proposed budget changes. In addition the budget proposals were viewed as the ultimate insult to a generation that made huge sacrifices in the 1980s when the marginal rate of income tax was 58%. Much of Ireland's prosperity today is due to its sacrifices. The tsunami of criticism has rocked the FF party to its foundations. In addition the Greens have been seriously damaged. A new political force has been energised. Expect to hear more from the over 70s who have emerged radicalised and more confident from the heat of battle.

Today the government backtracked on the application of a 1% levy to all income-part of last weeks budget- and announced that those on incomes below the minimum wage will be exempt from the proposed 1% levy. The threshold for the 2% levy will be lowered bringing in more middle-income taxpayers to compensate for the loss of revenue.

Two u-turns -on one day- are unheard of in Irish politics. Now huge opposition to changes in the pupil teacher ratio -in the nations schools- is building. In addition university students are up in arms over the increase in the registration fee from €900 to €1500. This government could be heading for the cliff of political destruction.

1 comment:

rainywalker said...

Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose and sometimes you place. Like here in the states we are all getting tired of the fees and taxes. Good for the Grey voters!