Government’s U-turn on medical cards widely welcomed

James Reilly urged to consider refunding medical expenses for past three years

 Jonathan Irwin  of the Jack and Jill Foundation:  “Credit where credit is due. I am glad to see the HSE being given the political and financial support via €13 million in additional funding to cover the cost of returning the medical cards”

Jonathan Irwin of the Jack and Jill Foundation: “Credit where credit is due. I am glad to see the HSE being given the political and financial support via €13 million in additional funding to cover the cost of returning the medical cards”

Wed, Jun 18, 2014, 01:05

The Government’s decision to return discretionary medical cards taken from 15,300 people with serious medical conditions has been widely welcomed.

The decision, announced yesterday by Minister for Health James Reilly, covers cards that were the subject of a controversial eligibility review between July 1st, 2011, and May 31st this year.

The Health Service Executive (HSE) says it will return the cards over the next three weeks without any need to change the law.

Sinn Féin welcomed the decision but said it was long overdue. “The Government must ensure that the HSE treats with due respect, consideration and compassion all applicants for medical cards, taking fully into consideration not only incomes but the burdens imposed by medical conditions, illnesses and disabilities,” the party’s health spokesman Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin said.

Fianna Fáil health spokesman Billy Kelleher urged the Minister to consider refunding the cost of medical expenses for the past three years to people who were now having their card reinstated.

“Credit where credit is due,” said chief executive of the Jack & Jill Foundation Jonathan Irwin, in a statement welcoming the decision.

“I am glad to see the HSE being given the political and financial support via €13 million in additional funding to cover the cost of returning the medical cards. However, the sad fact is that this money would not be necessary if there had been better leadership on the whole medical card issue.” He queried whether new applications from parents of very sick children would be “smoother” now, and whether families that did not apply for a medical card as they were outside the means threshold would meet with a “more positive response”.

Former minister of state Róisín Shortall also welcomed what she described as a “major U-turn” by the Government and said people had been “disgracefully treated”.

Peter Fitzpatrick of the Our Children’s Health campaign said it was clear that there would be no temporary provision for people who were currently in the middle of their first medical-card application, or people who would be diagnosed with a serious illness over the coming months.

In a statement released following a meeting of the Cabinet, the Department of Health said the Government accepted the review of the cards produced “unintended consequences”.

The statement said “anecdotal evidence” that some people with acute medical conditions or a lifelong condition, including disabilities, had lost their medical cards was “an outcome that the Government could not stand over”.

A new policy will be formulated whereby eligibility can take account of medical conditions, in addition to the existing basis of financial means.

The HSE has established an expert panel to report back by September.

Cards will be returned to those who undertook an eligibility review between July 2011 and May 2014. A person must have held a medical card or GP-visit card issued on a discretionary basis during that period, but had the card withdrawn on foot of a completed eligibility review.