Friday 25 May 2018

Taoiseach to put brakes on medical card reviews

Taoiseach Enda Kenny. Photo: Mark Condren
Taoiseach Enda Kenny. Photo: Mark Condren

Eilish O'Regan and Fionnan Sheahan

Taoiseach Enda Kenny is expected to put the brakes on the removal of discretionary medical cards today in the wake of the massive public backlash.

The controversy around the removal of medical cards was regarded as one of the key reasons behind the coalition parties losing so much support in last weekend's local and European elections.

Mr Kenny has vowed to "fix that problem" of people receiving letters from the HSE threatening to remove their card.

The Government is expected to put "a level of humanity" into the way medical card holders are dealt with. It comes after reports of children with lifelong illnesses such as Down Syndrome being asked to prove they still had the condition.

The HSE is on target to review one million cards this year and is completing reviews of around 86,000 individuals each month.

A Cabinet sub-committee meeting this morning will discuss proposals to deal with the manner in which the medical card review has been handled.

The cash-strapped HSE is expected to be instructed to slow down the rate at which |it is sending review letters to medical card holders to prove they are still eligible.

However, while this will reduce some of the attacks on the Government, it will also help plunge the HSE into further financial trouble.

The Government’s announcement is expected to stop short of restoring cards for children with disabilities and people with serious illnesses who have already lost them.

An option on the table at the Cabinet sub-committee meeting is stalling the process and coming up with another approach to deal with the issue.

“Kenny has made it clear he is not going to allow it to continue. This is not persisting. You're talking about slowing down the review process and stopping the letters flowing,” a government source said.

But it is not yet clear how the issue will be dealt with in the longer run.

“No matter what you do, there is no way of keeping everyone happy. But you have to inject it with a level of humanity. There'll be an examination of the review process, including slowing it down,” a source said.

The meeting comes against a background of a worsening financial crisis for the HSE and a big jump in waiting lists, despite Health Minister James Reilly's insistence yesterday that some of the escalation was due to seasonal factors.

The minister was asked to respond to the figures showing hospitals are €63m over budget, while inpatient waiting lists have risen to 50,537 at the end of March – up 1,390 in just a month.


Outpatient waiting lists are up by 30,500, rising to 331,281.

Dr Reilly said that every year around this time there is a |seasonal spike and the success in some areas has been “astounding.”

While there were 16,295 waiting over a year for an outpatient appointment at the end of March this year, the number stood at 106,852 at the same time in 2013.

Last week, the Irish Independent reported that 66,000 review letters have already been sent to the over-70s to determine if they are still eligible following changes in eligibility introduced in the last budget.

More than 24,200 people have lost their discretionary medical card in the last two years.

During 2013, renewal notices were issued in relation to 600,741 people – 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.

There was a fall of more than 50,000 in the number of people covered by a medical card to the end of March this year. And there were 49,596 with discretionary grounds, a drop of about 1,000 since January.

Irish Independent

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