HSE targets the over-70s but hasn't got the power to take medical cards off workers
THE cash-strapped HSE cannot remove medical cards from around 22,000 former social welfare recipients months after the Government decided they should no longer have the benefit.
The medical card was supposed to be taken back this year from people who returned to work after a period of unemployment and replaced with a cheaper GP-visit card instead.
Under proposals announced in the Budget last October this group were no longer to be allowed to avail of the "back to work" incentive, which meant they could hold on to the medical card for three years after getting a job, regardless of income.
It was estimated it would generate around €11m in savings for the HSE if they were downgraded to a GP-visit card instead.
However, while health bosses are pursuing the over-70s and discretionary medical card holders to provide proof of eligibility, it has not been able to follow through with this cost-saving proposal.
A spokesman for the HSE said it was still awaiting the necessary legislation to bring this proposal into effect. The Department of Health said yesterday that "the proposal is still being examined".
Meanwhile, the HSE said it was sending out review letters to the over-70s with medical cards – "targeting the higher income households and avoiding households on low incomes or reliant on social welfare pensions only".
"During 2013, renewal notices were issued in relation to 600,741 people, that equates to an average of 50,062 per month. Renewal of a medical card can be done by way of a full review of eligibility by the HSE or by cardholder self-assessment."
Of the 600,741 renewals issued in 2013, 283,764 involved a full review and 316,977 requested the cardholder to self-assess. It comes as a group of parents launched a campaign called 'Our Children's Health' aimed at getting an amendment to the Health Act of 1970 to "automatically and legally entitle any child diagnosed with a serious illness or congenital condition to a full medical card".
Spokesman Peter Fitzpatrick said the "granting of 'discretionary' cards and the interpretation of the term 'undue hardship' will forever be contentious as long as the power of discretion remains with the HSE.
"We are convinced that legislative change is now essential to provide these children and their parents with the certainty that they deserve. Our campaign aims to ensure that this is the next step for health policy in Ireland."
He warned they intend to "indefinitely maintain a presence outside Government Buildings every morning the Dail is in session".
Health Minister James Reilly has indicated that the future direction for medical cards will be an extension of free GP care to the under-sixes, eventually extending it to the entire population.