HSE removes medical cards from 45,000 people

HSE announces communications campaign to raise awareness of the rules for eligibility

More than 45,000 people have had their medical cards removed following the biggest ever review of eligibility conducted by the Health Service Executive, it has emerged.

The status of 428,000 cards has been reviewed so far this year, resulting in almost 10,000 people who were found to be ineligible, while 35,733 did not respond or provide sufficient information. A further 4,000 cardholders were found to be deceased.

However, HSE officials insisted yesterday there was no Government policy or direction to slow down the issuing of medical cards and that officials assessing applications for cards continue to “try to push people over the line” where discretion comes into play.

The HSE yesterday announced a communications campaigned designed to raise awareness of the rules governing eligibility for medical cards. The campaign, costing €150,000, was ordered by Minister for Health James Reilly following weeks of controversy over the withdrawal or refusal of cards for seriously-ill patients.


Call centre
The HSE's plan includes extra resources for the national call centre dealing with medical card enquiries, media advertisements, a new information leaflet, improved support on the HSE website and more training for frontline staff . Officials say greater efforts are being made to use plain English in communications and to apply "greater sensitivity" in communications with the public. More engagement with groups such as the Irish Cancer Society and Irish Motor Neurone Disease Association is planned.

Officials emphasised that the guidelines for assessing eligibility have not altered since two changes were made in the previous budget over a year ago. The processing of applications was centralised to a centre in Finglas in 2011, where decisions to grant a card on discretionary grounds are made by a team of 13 doctors who assess the financial impact of a person’s condition on their family.

Palliative care
For patients in palliative care, cards are issued where a person's condition is terminal and he or she is not expected to survive for more than six months. In situations where the applicant does live longer, the card is renewed, an official clarified yesterday.

Dr Reilly welcomed the campaign to provide more information on the issue of medical card eligibility. He insisted there has been no slowing down in the issuing of medical cards, although he accepted there had been “teething problems” associated with the centralisation of the processing of applications.

Paul Cullen

Paul Cullen

Paul Cullen is Health Editor of The Irish Times