Thursday 18 January 2018

HSE and Taoiseach at odds over return of 'mercy' medical cards

Taoiseach Enda Kenny
Taoiseach Enda Kenny

Eilish O'Regan and Philip Ryan

THE Health Service Executive said it will be exercising its powers of "mercy" on medical cards frugally – despite claims by Taoiseach Enda Kenny that it would allow more than 5,000 more discretionary cards to be returned.

The administrative measure gives the HSE permission to restore 15,300 discretionary medical and GP visit cards removed after review between July 2011 and May 2014.

And it also allows a so-called mercy clause to be triggered.

The Taoiseach told the Dail he believed it would lead to a further 5,145 discretionary cards restored to people who lost the benefit after failing to provide the necessary documentation for the review.

However, a spokeswoman for the HSE insisted later that this would only be exercised where people could demonstrate they were not able to co-operate with the review for "exceptional circumstances".

She said the "ad misericordiam" or mercy process is more generally seen in the context of staff disciplinary matters.

"However, in the context of reinstating medical cards that were awarded on a discretionary basis, and were subsequently withdrawn following a review from April 2011 to May 2014, the process relates solely to individuals who were not in a position for exceptional circumstances to complete their review," she explained.

They will need to prove they were too ill to engage with the review, to show they could not provide the necessary documentation. The existence of a mercy clause is likely to see many more people who lost out on discretionary cards contacting the HSE to secure the benefit. The spokeswoman said the other 15,300 people who are to have them restored will not have to apply or reapply to get them back. The HSE is now going through its records to identify these people who should be contacted within three weeks.

The Taoiseach repeated that people who lost their discretionary cards and will have them returned until July next year will not be reimbursed for any medical expenses.

This is on the advice of the Attorney General, who devised the administrative measure with a view to not have any knock-on claims by other medical card holders.

Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin said the U-turn on medical cards was full of "inconsistencies and incoherence".

Sinn Fein's health spokesman Caoimhghin O Caolain described the move as a "smoke screen" to hide the Government's embarrassment.

Meanwhile, Jobs Minister Richard Bruton insisted Health Minister Dr James Reilly has the backing of Fine Gael TDs. A number of backbenchers have said both privately and publicly that they believe Dr Reilly must be replaced in the upcoming reshuffle. But asked about the disquiet within Fine Gael about Dr Reilly's performance, Mr Bruton said he believed his Cabinet colleague has the support of the parliamentary party.

"I think Fine Gael has come through a difficult election and nd we are learning from that. I think people are hurting out there and we recognise that there's progress being made in many ways," he said.

"But it hasn't filtered down to people. I think the Government realises that we have to do better. That's what backbenchers say to us and we recognise that ourselves."

Irish Independent

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