[Sinn Fein]

18th July 2002

Medicine subsidy cuts a "tax on the sick" - Crowe

Sinn Fein TD Seán Crowe has called on the Minister for Health to reverse his decision to cut costs by increasing the monthly maximum non-medical card holders must pay for medication. He has also slammed the Minister's decision to approve an 18% rise in VHI rates.

Deputy Crowe strongly criticised the subsidy reduction, calling it a "health cut in disguise," a "cynical cash grab dictated by the Department of Finance," and a "tax on the sick."

Crowe said: "There is no question that this measure will disproportionately affect the working poor. After only two months into the new Government, Minister Martin is already backtracking on both the National Health Strategy commitment to equity as a key principle and the Programme for Government pledge to target health inequalities. This is just not acceptable.

"For the well-off these increases may be a minor inconvenience. But for nearly 20% of Irish working people who make just enough to disqualify them from a medical card, this could result in the denial of needed medical care. The impact of this measure is discriminatory, and I therefore call for the immediate reversal of this decision.

"I don't think Minister Martin has considered the potential costs associated with this cut. Those who cannot arrest an illness at an early stage get sicker. They may lose time at work. Some may eventually end up in an overstretched A & E department over what should have been a minor matter. What the Minister saves now on paper will show up as a real cost later - a cost perhaps greater than the immediate savings.

"I agree that the Government should look to reduce the excessive cost of pharmaceuticals to the Exchequer. However, a subsidy reduction that will hit low income people hardest is not the right answer. Instead, I would call for the Government to investigate possible options that will reduce costs for both citizens and state - specifically, the potential cost-savings from purchasing generic drugs, and from bulk discounts through all-Ireland purchases."

Deputy Crowe went on to describe as a "double-whammy on health" the Minister's approval of what he termed an "outrageously excessive 18% rise in VHI rates" saying "it will force more people on to the already overburdened and under-resourced public health service waiting lists. The VHI is massively profitable. This increase begs the question - are the government bumping up the figures to make this company more attractive to sell off in the near future."

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