Universal Benefits Must be Defended

12th December, 2008

Paschal spoke on the Health Bill 2008 in Seanad Eireann. This bill ends the principle of automatic medical card entitlement. Paschal opposed this in Seanad Eireann. His speach on this subject is below.

I want to make three points and will conclude with a question. Many colleagues have made many of the points I wish to cover, and they have done so emphatically.
My first point concerns the principle of universality. I have heard many Members on the Government side argue this morning that millionaires should not have access to medical cards. I disagree with them in that regard. They should have such access. I believe in the principle of universality and in it extending to public services, access to which should be potentially open to everybody. The reason I believe millionaires or High Court judges, which is the example I hear used often, should have access to medical cards is that they should have the ability to be in the same queue as me waiting to see a doctor, in the same accident and emergency room or queuing to use the same medical service. The same thinking underpins the ideal that all people, regardless of their background or class, should be educated in the same schools and treated equally. Credit must be given to the Government on this count in that in this respect at least it is being consistent. The same thinking that leads to the withdrawal of the medical card from a certain group of people within our society, is the rationale that underpins the idea of co-located hospitals. That philosophy is one I entirely reject.

The second point I want to put on record relates to the people who will be punished and castigated on foot of this measure. As many colleagues said, it will be people such as teachers and nurses who have had the temerity to work a bit harder than expected and clock up hours in overtime, substitute work or whatever, who will be penalised as a result of this measure. We should not stop at drawing examples from people working in the public sector services. This measure will also target those working in private sector services who have worked at middle management level in call centres and other services who have had the audacity to work harder than expected to earn more, on which their pensions have been generated.
I emphasise we are not discussing the loss of only the medical card for these people. The medical card is a passport to a universal suite of services on which many people depend to get by, whether it be access to products or services to help spouses, partners, mothers or fathers who suffer from incontinence or access to the services of a chiropodist or a public health nurse. Access to those services for these people will be under attack on foot of this measure. The foundations upon which this policy is based are flawed. At a time when we should be showing solidarity as a country and we have heard many calls for patriotism to look after the interests of the country as a whole, this philosophy spurns that.
I will conclude with a question, which many colleagues raised. How much money will be saved by this measure? I have no doubt that once the administrative and the information technology costs are factored in, we will be left with cents in savings. We should be clear in pointing out that this measure is not driven by economic necessity but by an attack on the principle of universal benefits, on which the Government has a great track record.