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Thursday 18 September 2014

HSE is still planning medical card cutback of €23m

Eilish O’Regan Health Correspondent

Published 31/05/2014 | 02:30

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Jonathan Irwin
Jonathan Irwin

HEALTH service bosses still plan to slash €23m worth of medical cards this year despite agreeing to stop sending highly emotive review letters to discretionary card holders.

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A Health Service Executive (HSE) spokeswoman said the thousands who have had their discretionary cards removed up to now “will be dealt with as sympathetically as possible”. However, the HSE insisted that they will not be automatically restored until a change in law.

And while the Government attempted to quash the controversy over the removal of cards, the failure to restore the |benefit to so many with a |severe disability or illness has sparked a new row.

Jonathan Irwin (inset) of the Jack and Jill Foundation, which cares for children with life-limiting illnesses, said those who had their cards removed in the past two years are “not better off today”.

“It is a fudge and not good enough for the HSE and the Minister to say that it expects these medical cards to be given back once the legislation is changed. There is no certainty.

“And what about the babies who come onto our books next week? They still have to go through this brutal system of means testing their parents before they get their medical card,” he added.

There are currently 1.8 million covered by a medical card, 50,375 of which were granted on

a discretionary basis. Another 124,166 have a GP visit card and 29,481 of these are discretionary.

John Hennessy, the HSE’s Director of Primary Care, said the review letters to people on discretionary cards will stop and those who were appealing a decision to remove their card also be allowed to retain them for now.

However, he said there will be no automatic right to a discretionary card for those who have yet to apply. Their case will be assessed as normal.

The HSE will proceed with its review of all other card holders, including the over-70s. Already 482,866 reviews have been carried out and the 2014 target is to complete one million in a bid to make the €23m savings.

He said the HSE was approaching a number of people, including GPs, to sit on the expert group which the Government is to set up to look at the range of illnesses which would automatically qualify a person for a medical card.

Hardship

New legislation will be required, as currently medical card eligibility is based on means, but a discretionary card can be issued where somebody is assessed as over the income limit but facing undue financial hardship due to their illness.

The expert group will be tasked with coming up with a range of illnesses which will qualify for a card but this is expected to be relatively limited with a complex form of assessment, leaving thousands of people again failing to qualify.

The HSE spokeswoman said an expert panel would be appointed shortly.

“Work is already under way to identify suitable individuals, including clinical experts. It is not envisaged that this will be a lengthy process, however, neither is it intended to rush the work of the expert panel,” she said.

The Department of Health was unable to say how soon the legislation will be in place.

It may face a repeat of the obstacles it encountered when it attempted to draw up legislation to extend the GP visit |card to people with certain |long-term illnesses – a move which proved to be legally impossible.

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