In Ireland, people who are eligible to receive certain health services free of charge are issued with a medical card by the Health Service Executive. This benefit is means-tested, and eligibility is reassessed periodically.
Currently, everyone is entitled to a medical card if their doctor certifies they have a terminal illness and a limited prognosis – but they must apply to have this renewed after a period of 12 months.
The recent announcement means that for people with terminal illnesses, this review will no longer take place.
Minister for Health, Leo Varadkar, said that those with a serious illness who hold a discretionary card can be “reassured” that they will retain their card pending implementation of the actions to improve the operation of the scheme.
The Irish Hospice Foundation welcomed the announcement, and CEO Sharon Foley said that it was heartening to see the government listen to people’s concerns.
She commented: “The renewal process that was in existence was very upsetting for patients and their families. The last thing people nearing end of life need is to be worried about their medical card and if they will be looked after in their last months and weeks of life. The system was very insensitive and we have been campaigning to have this changed.”
This change is one of ten actions to improve the operation of the medical card system, announced by the Health Service Executive yesterday.
Welcoming the changes, Minister Varadkar said: “The medical card controversy of last summer required the government to reconsider how the whole system works. Having done so, with the help of the expert group, we have concluded that a financial means-test remains the fairest way to assess eligibility. But we also need an enhanced assessment process which takes into account the burden of an illness or a condition. From now on, wider discretion and greater humanity will be exercised in such cases.”