The Government is to significantly expand access to medical cards for people with a terminal illness.
At present medical cards are provided on a compassionate basis for people who are considered to have up to a year to live.
Under proposals brought to the Cabinet by Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly access to this scheme is effectively to be doubled.
Medical cards will in future be provided to people with a terminal illness who are considered to have two years to live.
About 1,800 people with a terminal illness have medical cards at present on compassionate grounds.
This will increase to about 3,600 under the new Government plan.
The initiative is expected to cost up to €3 million to put in place.
The scheme is expected to assist people with a number of different conditions including motor neurone disease, neurological disease, advanced cancer and heart failure.
Proposals to expand access to medical cards for people with terminal illesses formed part of the programme for government agreed last year between Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and the Green Party.
It is expected the new measure will be introduced initially on an administrative basis for 12 months pending new legislation.
Mr Donnelly said on Tuesday: “A terminal diagnosis is undoubtedly devastating. The provision of a medical card can provide much needed certainty and reassurance for individuals and their families during such a difficult time. Up to now, all those who have a prognosis of up to 12 months meet the ‘end of life’ criteria for eligibility for a medical cards.”
""I am pleased that the introduction of an interim administrative arrangement will ensure eligible persons can access a medical card while the necessary legislative framework to underpin this arrangement continues to be developed. My Department will now work closely with the HSE with the aim of ensuring necessary processes and communications to operationalise the scheme are in place within weeks."
The Irish Heart Foundation said the announcement was “very welcome news”. “This will come as a relief and comfort to many people living with heart failure and other heart conditions.
“It is very welcome news that people who are terminal and have two years or less to live will not have to worry about being able to afford vital medicines and care, on top of the burden of living with a terminal condition.”