New legislation on nursing home refunds delayed

 

Legislation to enable the Governmet to repay hundreds of millions of euro illegally deducted from patients in public nursing homes or other publicly funded residential centres has been delayed for a few weeks.

Minister for Health Mary Harney has drawn up proposals for the operation of the repayment scheme, which is expected to run for at least two years.

However, the proposals were not reached on the agenda at the final Cabinet meeting before Christmas. They will be submitted again to Cabinet in mid- January.

If approved, the legislation will be brought before the Oireachtas when it returns after its Christmas recess.

The Health Service Executive is drawing up proposals to commission an outside consultancy to assist in the repayment scheme.

However, Age Action Ireland, the independent organisation on ageing and older people, said the delay in introducing a scheme to repay the money deducted in illegal charges was "a huge issue" for those affected.

A spokesman for the organisation said any further delay for administrative or other reasons would cause upset.

Up to 20,000 people who are still alive as well as a further 40,000-50,000 estates of deceased persons will benefit from the scheme.

The Government has set aside €400 million in its spending estimates for next year to meet initial costs.

The Department of Health believes the overall cost of the scheme running over a number of years and including interest will be around €1 billion.

Under the scheme, all money returned to patients who were illegally charged will be exempt from tax.

The repayments will also be disregarded as part of assessments for health or social welfare benefits.

However, family members or estates which reclaim money illegally deducted from relatives during their stay in public nursing homes will have to pay tax on the repayments.

The money will also be taken into account when determining eligibility for means-tested State benefits.