Cancer patients hit by medical card cuts
The Irish Cancer Society says it is concerned that many cancer patients are suffering distress and financial hardship as a result of losing their discretionary medical cards or being refused these cards.
The Society says it has seen a 12% increase in applications for financial aid from cancer patients in the first quarter of this year.
It has urged the HSE to ensure cancer patients undergoing treatment are given medical cards without delay.
Kathleen O'Meara, Head of Advocacy and Communications says it has become increasingly difficult for cancer patients to get a discretionary medical card.
"According to the HSE's own national assessment guidelines, the patients we are talking to should, and would have in the past, been entitled to a discretionary medical card but they are not getting one now. The Government is consistently denying that there is a policy to cut discretionary medical cards but what we are hearing from patients paints a different picture," said Ms O'Meara.
She said through the Society's National Cancer Helpline and Daffodil Centres it was hearing from many cancer patients who are losing their discretionary medical card after a review or who are being refused in the first instance.
"We have written to the HSE's Primary Care Reimbursement Service (PCRS) requesting an urgent meeting to discuss the issues arising for cancer patients applying for medical cards or being reviewed."
The HSE's Director of Primary Care, John Hennessy, recently admitted that the way in which discretionary medical cards for seriously ill patients were being reviewed in some cases was 'indefensible'.
Minister for Primary Care Alex White stated in the Dail last Wednesday: "It is true some of the decisions made in respect of the mechanics of how the process is implemented, some of the overbureaucratising of the process, some of the delays which have happened and some of the mistakes which have happened in the implementation and administration of the system are indefensible."
The Minister said he recognised 'the pain, the difficulties and the dilemma that families face in these circumstances. I also understand and am aware of many individual cases in which people have felt confronted by such a situation'.
Minister White said the system must be reformed.
He said of the discretionary medical cards in circulation in 2011, around 6% have subsequently been withdrawn on review.
The Cancer Society has given some examples of the distress caused to patients by medical card reviews:
*A relative of a cancer patient looking for advice on their medical card application. They have contacted the HSE medical card department 18 times about the medical card. They are currently receiving debt collector letters regarding a hospital charge of €750 (medical card holders do not get charged for hospital services).
*A 72 year-old bowel cancer survivor who received a letter from the HSE reviewing his medical card. He needs the medical card to obtain his colostomy bags monthly and is distressed about this.
*An 80 year-old lady fearful that her medical card will be taken from her. She has metastatic breast cancer.
* A young lady with breast cancer and small children, struggling to pay childcare, her mortgage, hospital charges and drug payments, who as been refused a medical card.
* A woman with breast cancer who has lost her medical card and received a GP visit card instead. She and her husband work part-time earning a total of €651 per week, and she doesn't earn any money during school holidays. They have two children. She is due to undergo reconstruction surgery this summer and she cannot afford her drugs and the prescription charges.
* A woman with secondary breast cancer had her medical card was taken away and is currently in treatment. She is having trouble paying for her medications since her card was removed.
The Cancer Society says it knows of know of incidences where patients who are terminally ill have been granted a medical card on a six month time limit and in the final weeks or months of their lives their card is then reviewed when the six month limit is up. They then have to re-apply which entails resubmitting all of their financial information," said Ms O'Meara.
"This causes huge distress and uncertainty at a very difficult stage in someone's life and we are asking that this time limit be extended or abolished."
Additionally, the Cancer Society says, it is particularly hard for self-employed patients to get a card. This can leave them in a situation where they are not working, have no income protection and are receiving no financial assistance from the state.
The HSE is currently examining what has been dubbed a a 'third tier' medical card system whereby people who are not entitled to a medical card could still receive services to meet their needs.
People who have any concerns about medical cards or financial assistance can call the Irish Cancer Society's National Cancer Helpline on Freefone 1800 200 700 or visit www.cancer.ie
[Posted: Mon 19/05/2014]