A MORE "sympathetic" scheme for people seeking discretionary medical cards will be launched today, with a promise to devote more time to assessing individual needs final decisions are made.
The overhauled scheme, to be launched by Health Minister Leo Varadkar, is expected to see more people qualifying for the cards which are given to those who are over the income limit but assessed as being under financial stress due to illness.
There is already evidence of some easing of the strict assessment regime, with new figures showing the numbers with discretionary cards have risen by nearly 19,000 to 71,222 in the three months after the review and removal of cards was halted in June.
However, it will be several weeks before the Government, which suffered at local and European election polls over the removal of so many cards, can be judged on whether the revamped system lives up to its humanitarian pledge.
Applicants will still have to submit details of their income, which will be part of the assessment process.
However, although the decision to grant or reject the application will continue to be made by the HSE medical card section, there will be more information obtained from local sources such as doctors, social workers and TDs, taking into account circumstances such as a parent having to give up a job.
The cards will only be given to a sick child rather than the entire family. One application form will be used for a medical card, GP card, long-term illness card and discretionary card.
The terminally ill, who are automatically entitled to a card, will no longer be subject to formal review.
The minister is to publish the report of an expert group which rejected the proposal to draw up a set list of illnesses to automatically qualify for a card.
Patient groups which have lobbied for a fairer system will be briefed on the details of the scheme before the launch.
The latest figures from the HSE, which relate to the end of September, show that the numbers with discretionary GP cards has fallen since the end of June. At that stage there were 31,565 GP cards which were discretionary, but three months later this fell to 30,780.
Around 11,000 people who had their cards removed between 2011 and 2014 after review have had them returned since June.
Department of Health officials are satisfied the new system will not be substantially more costly given the relatively low numbers who will still get discretionary cards out of the total of 1,780,000 people who are in receipt of normal medical cards.
It is also helped by the fall in the number of people no longer entitled to medical cards due to improved income.