Medical card 'bias' emerges in new figures


PEOPLE LIVING in the northeast and in north Dublin are much less likely to be granted discretionary medical cards than individuals living in other parts of the State, it has emerged.

New figures from the HSE show more than twice as many discretionary medical cards are held by people in the south than by people living in the HSE’s Dublin/North East region which covers north Dublin, as well as counties Louth, Meath, Cavan and Monaghan.

Significantly more discretionary medical cards are also held by people living in the west and in Dublin/Mid Leinster (covering south Dublin, Wicklow, Kildare and the midlands) than by people living in the HSE’s Dublin/North East region.

Some 24,796 discretionary medical cards were held by people in the HSE South region at the end of September compared with 11,797 in the Dublin/North East region.

At the same time, more than 21,000 discretionary medical cards were held by people living in the HSE West region and a similar number were held by those living in the HSE Dublin/Mid Leinster region.

The figures were compiled by the HSE in response to a written request from the secretary general of the Department of Health, Michael Scanlan.

Discretionary medical cards can be sought by people above the income threshold for a medical card, but who argue they are suffering hardship as a result of the high cost of dealing with a particular illness.

The total number of discretionary medical cards held by people across the State at the end of September was 79,871, up more than 6,000 or 8 per cent from a year earlier.

HSE sources agreed people in the south, west and Dublin/Mid Leinster had, based on the figures, a better chance of getting a discretionary medical card than those living in the northeast, but indicated the HSE was trying to regularise the position.

Fine Gael’s health spokesman, Dr James Reilly, said he would be seeking an explanation regarding why people in north Dublin and the northeast were being “discriminated against”.

“Discretionary medical cards have had an element of a lack of transparency about them. We have had situations in Dublin where people who were terminally ill were not given a discretionary medical card. I think what this shows is a gross bias against the people of the northeast,” he said.

The discrepancies cannot be accounted for by population differences between the regions. Figures provided by the HSE show the population of Dublin/ Mid Leinster at 730,000 is actually lower than that of Dublin/ North East at 927,410. The HSE South has an estimated population of 1.08 million, while in HSE West the population is 1.01 million.

Meanwhile, a similar situation exists with discretionary GP visit cards, which cover the cost of doctor visits only. These, too, are more common in areas other than Dublin/North East. There are 2,156 discretionary GP visit cards held by people in Dublin/North East compared with 5,086 in Dublin/Mid Leinster, 5,374 in HSE South and 4,677 in HSE West.

The number of people in the State now covered by medical cards is 1.4 million. This is increasing each month as more people lose their jobs. An additional 10,632 full medical cards were handed out in September by the HSE. The number of people with GP visit cards now stands at more than 94,000.