Taoiseach Enda Kenny has indicated the number of over-70s on higher incomes who will lose their medical cards as a result of Budget 2014 is small.

Speaking in Limerick, he said the assessment process for eligibility for medical and GP-only cards is income based and those aged over 70 who meet the eligibility criteria need have no worries.

Mr Kenny said the change in eligibility affects a very small number of higher-earning over-70s.

The proportion of those in that age group who will retain their medical or GP-only cards was in the high 90s, in fact it was 97%, he said.

Mr Kenny said the contribution of older people to families and to community and society was valued.

He said that was why the net income of pensioners was being protected and there was no changes to their pensions, their free travel, or free electricity.

Mr Kenny said there would be no roll back on the provisions of the Budget, including the loss of the telephone allowance for older people.

The Taoiseach said he had asked the Ministers for Environment and Social Protection to talk to the community organisations across the country to see how security alert and security pendant schemes could be enhanced.

Extremely ambitious savings have been set

Earlier, Minister for Health James Reilly said 2014 will be another extremely challenging year for the health services.

He told the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Health and Children that extremely ambitious savings have been set for the reduction of expenditure on medical cards and other areas of spending.

The minister said the implications of these changes will be set out in the Health Service Executive's national service plan.

He said he anticipated the plan will be presented to him in the next three weeks.

Mr Reilly also said that the vast majority of people stripped of discretionary medical cards by the HSE had incomes well in excess of the threshold for medical card entitlement.

He said he met senior HSE officials on Monday following his concern over the content and volume of media reports about people losing their entitlement to discretionary medical cards.

Mr Reilly said he instructed the HSE to provide him with a detailed breakdown at that meeting of those who had lost their entitlement.

He told the committee the HSE's figures revealed that around half of those who had a discretionary card removed from them following a full assessment were earning 200% over the eligible income level for a medical card.

More than 90% were earning 50% more than the standard medical card entitlement threshold, the minister said.

He said that 97,121 people had discretionary medical cards in March 2011 and that by 1 October of this year, more than 80% still had a medical card.

Mr Reilly said that the HSE's analysis showed that 18%, or just over 17,000 people, had since lost their present entitlement to a card and 14% of these had passed away.

Approximately half of those who had a card removed from them had either failed to respond or only partially complied with a HSE examination of their entitlement, resulting in their cards being suspended.

However, Mr Reilly said the review revealed that more than 6,200 people who were in possession of a discretionary medical card were earning in excess of the threshold, in some cases well above, and they had their cards taken away.

He said this number related to just 6.5% of all those in possession of a discretionary card.

Mr Reilly said changes to the assessment process for discretionary cards, in which these assessments were carried out at national rather than local level, had meant that the assessment is uniform.

Elsewhere, Sinn Féin TD Aengus Ó Snodaigh has said Budget 2014 will increase homelessness amongst young people.

Speaking during Minister's Questions, he asked the Minister for Social Protection to give a commitment she would deliver 14,000 places in education and training as a consequences of a cut in social welfare.

Joan Burton pointed out that there would be no cut in existing payments and that the measures introduced by the Government are only relevant for "new people entering the relevant age groups".

She said the Government would be spending €46m on additional measures for young people.