Govt approves scheme to return cards
The Government has approved the method under which discretionary medical cards can be returned to persons with serious medical conditions who lost them in the recently-abandoned review process.
The decision made at Cabinet today covers cards that have been removed between July 1 2011 and May 31 2014.
Around 15,000 previously withdrawn cards are expected to be restored under the new process, and €13 million will be provided in funding for the HSE for the restoration of the cards.
The decision will allow for the return of cards to persons with an acute medical condition or a person with a lifelong condition, including disability.
The HSE said today it is expected that 7,118 people who previously had their cards downgraded will move from GP visit card back to a medical card; 5,288 who lost full medical cards completely will have them restored and 2,899 will have GP visit cards restored.
The process or restoring the cards will take around three weeks. The HSE says no action is required on the part of those who have had cards removed under the review process and it will be in contact with all those affected in the coming weeks.
The HSE says it will restore cards to people who held a medical or GP visit card, issued on a discretionary basis to a person with a serious medical condition, and who lost that card having completed an eligibility review between July 1, 2011 to May 31, 2014.
The newly-issued cards will be valid until July 2015.
According to new criteria for the return of cards, 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* Held a medical or GP visit card issued on a discretionary basis during that period, but had it withdrawn on foot of a completed eligibility review.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 HSE says the recent suspension of the review of discretionary cards will continue.
Further policy changes, expected to be implemented before the end of this year, will provide for the granting of a medical card in future on medical needs, in addition to the existing financial needs criteria.
The Department of Health said the Cabinet decisions on medical cards had been made in the context of the move to introduce universal health insurance and universal primary care.
"A policy paper on universal primary care will be completed by the Autumn. It will reflect the Government decision that it wants to provide access to appropriate health services on the basis of medical need, and has put in place the mechanisms required to provide the sound evidence base required to legislate for that," the Department said.
However, the IMO has claimed that the prioritisation of illness over means in the awarding of discretionary medical cards undermined the Government's stated argument for extending free GP visit cards to all children under the age of six.
IMO GP Chair Dr Ray Walley said that the move today, while welcome, suggested that Government policy was that medical need was the basis for any further extension of the medical card scheme.
"If this is the case, the decision calls into question the policy to give GP care which is free at the point of access to all under sixes regardless of illness or income."
Fianna Fail Health Spokesman Billy Kelleher asked what would happen to a further 15,000 people who have had their cards removed since 2011.
He added that many of the families who had lost discretionary cards and were now to have them restored could have a strong case for a refund of medical expenses incurred during the period in which their card was removed.
However, Health MInister James Reilly, at a press conference today, said that as the people who lost cards had technically had them removed in accordance with legislation and regulations, there was no legal basis for a refund.
He said he was very sorry that people with serious illnesses, including serious cancers and terminal illnesses, had had to suffer from the removal of discretionary cards.
As to his future as Health Minisfrer, Dr Reilly said: "My faith as a minister of health or any ministry is in the gift of the Taoiseach. He has to do what he feels is the right thing."
[Posted: Tue 17/06/2014]