Hope for medical card holders as Minister for Health overhauls criteria
PEOPLE hoping for a discretionary medical card will have a far better chance of receiving one under a new system.
The assessment process for the cards, which are given to people who are over the income limit but have an illness or disability, will be broadened to take into account the financial costs as well as their medical need.
Under the new system, unveiled by Health Minister Leo Varadkar and Junior Minister Kathleen Lynch, GPs will be given the power to reinstate a patient's medical card for four months after it is removed, which will mean they will not suddenly be faced with major medical bills.
In the case of a patient who suffers from mental illness, the cancelled card may be extended by their doctor for a year.
Surgeon Frank Keane, who chaired an expert group on medical cards, said a team will now attempt to come up with criteria to include measuring the burden of illness.
Individuals and families who apply for a card will still have to submit details of their income, which will be taken into account in the assessment.
Mr Varadkar said that before an application is refused, the HSE medical card section in Dublin from now on can ask local health offices, doctors and social workers about the applicants' individual circumstances to allow greater discretion if needed.
The changes will also mean that the HSE can provide therapies and appliances to people without a medical card if that is what they need.
However, they will face waiting lists - and the delays will vary across the country.
The expert group found there continues to be a "lack of transparency with the application and decision-making process which needs to be more explicit."
It said there was evidence that the current application system is inconsistent, poorly understood and inefficient.
It said while the request for scrutiny of personal finances can be upsetting, it remains the only way to fairly assess financial hardship due to illness.
Mr Varadkar admitted that the new system will "never be perfect" but it will be monitored to see where it can be further improved.
Patient groups gave a cautious welcome to the changes. The Jack and Jill Foundation, which looks after children with life-limiting conditions said it would encourage parents who were disillusioned with the process to reapply.
However, the Irish Cancer Society said cancer patients are no clearer on whether they can get or retain a card when they are ill.