THE terminally ill won't have to reapply for their medical card every six months following a climbdown by the health service.
HSE chief Tony O'Brien told the Oireachtas Committee on Health and Children yesterday that he would look again at the six-month deadline for terminally ill patients – but warned he would have to impose some time limit for renewal. He also warned that the HSE would have to find €1bn in savings – not just the €666m already ordered.
Mr O'Brien and Health Minister James Reilly rejected claims they were putting a squeeze on discretionary medical cards, despite the testimonies of patients in recent months.
Mr Reilly told the committee that he had figures that revealed that those applying for the discretionary card – awarded on the grounds of financial hardship due to illness – were not being treated unfairly under existing rules.
He said he had a top-level meeting with HSE chiefs earlier this week to get information on everyone who held a discretionary card since March 2011.
By October 1, 38,283 of the 97,121 of those people who had a card in 2011 (39pc) held on to them; while another 43pc had been upgraded to a full medical card. This meant that 18pc or 17,059 no longer held a card and of these 2,361 had died.
More than one third, 6,260, did not respond to correspondence from the HSE when it was assessing their ongoing eligibility.
Dr Reilly said 6,324 people were found to be ineligible after assessment. "There has been no change in policy but there has been probity," Dr Reilly said. "There will be a public accounts committee inquiry we must answer to."
Mr O'Brien said: "We are administering the scheme as it stands and it does not do all we would wish it to do. What we are really having is a discussion about what the scheme should be as opposed to what it is. It is a plea for a different type of medical card system, a universal one."