HSE continues to seek information on taxpayers

Mon, Mar 26, 2012, 01:00

THE REVENUE Commissioners and the Health Service Executive are at odds over the health body’s efforts to seek access to confidential information on taxpayers as part of its new system for assessing medical card applicants.

A section within the HSE that processes the applications is continuing to seek access to the information, amid “grave reservations” from the Data Protection Commissioner that it is a “step too far”.

In July last year, the HSE centralised the processing of medical card applications and reviews at the primary care reimbursement service (PCRS) in Finglas, Dublin.

Minister of State for Primary Care Róisín Shortall says the aim is to have a single processing system to replace the different systems previously operated through more than 100 offices around the State.

A number of changes have been introduced to the system in order to help deal with a huge backlog of medical card applications and to make the process for renewing a medical card easier.

Some medical card holders will be asked to provide income figures on a self-assessment basis as part of this system. It is understood the PCRS is seeking broad access to taxpayer information in order to validate the claims.

Revenue is known to oppose the move as it will not disclose taxpayer information to other parties under any circumstances unless there is a legislative basis for such an exchange.

Sharing of data between public bodies, including the Department of Social Protection and a wide range of other agencies, takes place on on a structured basis and is guided by strict protocols agreed with the Data Protection Commissioner.

Such exchanges are provided for under social welfare legislation.

The Data Protection Commissioner’s office said, however, it had “grave reservations” about the appropriateness of the HSE seeking access to confidential taxpayer information in order to further assess medical card applicants.

The commissioner’s office said it was the case that such applicants were required to supply “extensive material to support their applications and we consider this proposal a step too far.

“This office recognises that data-sharing is necessary to allow Government departments and public bodies provide more efficient and cost effective services for citizens,” it said.

“We welcome the fact that the Department of Public Expenditure has formed a data-sharing clearing house group to better assess the specifics of data sharing requirements and engage with this office as appropriate to ensure such sharing is fully justified, proportionate and takes account of data protection principles.”

The HSE confirmed it had been in contact “for some time” with both the Department of Social Protection and the Revenue Commissioners to explore how these government agencies could “best utilise data-sharing, within data protection and legislative parameters, to provide additional flexibility in the area of enhanced customer services”.

A spokeswoman for Revenue discussions were “ongoing” between Revenue and the HSE “on the possibility of Revenue validating certain information that is supplied to the HSE by medical card applicants”.

She said part of the discussion process was about “ensuring that any such data exchanges are covered by appropriate legislation and codes of practice”.

The HSE said the medical card backlog stood at 57,962 as of January 26th. It was reduced to 31,456 by March 2nd and to 20,967 by March 14th.

It expects to have the entire backlog cleared by the end of April.