Thursday 22 August 2019

15,000 patients who lost medical cards as far back as July 2011 will see them restored

Cabinet today agreed in principal a plan to hand back medical cards to patients 'within weeks'

Dr James Reilly
Dr James Reilly

Eilish O’Regan, Health Correspondent

UP to 15,000 people who had discretionary medical cards removed since July 2011 are to have them restored following a Cabinet decision today.

The measure is aimed at dampening the ongoing criticism of the government over its treatment of people with life long disabilities and serious illnesses who had the cards removed by the HSE under its controversial review process.

Announcing the move today the Department of Health said it will restore the medical cards or GP visits issued on a discretionary basis to a person with a serious medical condition, and who lost it after undergoing an eligibility review between July 1 2011  and May 31st 2014.

*A person must have held a medical or GP visit card issued on a discretionary basis during that period, but had it withdrawn on foot of a completed eligibility review;

*They must have completed the review process during that period i.e. provided the information and documentation required to assess their eligibility;

*They must have a serious medical condition which required that their case was referred to a Medical Officer as a part of the review process.

The move excludes anyone who applied for a card during that time and was turned down.

It also fails to make any provision for people who are currently applying for discretionary card.

Minister for Health James Reilly said he was “very pleased” with the decision and apologised for causing “distress” to families impacted by medical card removal.

“I’m very pleased that we have a situation today that we are having discretionary medical cards reinstated to people that had them removed,” he told RTE Radio 1 this afternoon.

“[But] I do agree that people were impacted. I apologise on my behalf and on the behalf of the government for any distress that was caused. It was an unintended consequence for which I am sorry.”

Minister Reilly said that they have records of the 15,300 families that will be affected by this change – and that they should get this confirmation within the next three weeks.

“They don’t have to do anything. They will a letter from HSE in the coming weeks letter to confirm their card has been reinstated.”

He told RTE's News At One today: “This is a good day for the health service. Not only are people getting their medical cared restored. But now there is a decision by the Government to move away from means tested cards. This was always the plan of the Government, to issue cards based on [individual] health need rather than what they could afford.”

The Health Minister denied that there was any change in policy nor that anyone in Government had been blocking the reinstatements of these cards.

“Nobody in government was happy that people were losing their medical cards. We can continue to look backwards or look forward to the future. I think today is a good day.”

The HSE has already established an expert panel to advise on the broader issue by September.

“We have taken a quantum leap now through this expert panel,” said Minister Reilly. “We are all now looking forward to the report from the panel.”

A Department of Health spokesman said today: ”The Cabinet has agreed a method which paves the way for the return of cards by the Health Service Executive which does not involve changing the law. Accordingly the return of such cards can be implemented within a matter of weeks through actions taken by the HSE.

“The Government has accepted that the review of the cards – which took place in the context of the centralisation of the medical card system – produced unintended consequences. Much anecdotal evidence points to the fact that some persons with an acute medical condition, or a lifelong condition (including a disability) have lost their medical cards, an outcome that the Government could not stand over.

“In recent weeks the Government decided to take remedial action to repair the unintended consequences and also decided to formulate a new policy whereby eligibility for health services can take account of medical conditions, in addition to the existing basis of financial means. “

The HSE has already established an expert panel to advise on the broader issue by September- today’s decision will see an expeditious reinstatement of cards, said a spokesman.

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