Medical cards for 10,000 disabled children

Up to 10,000 disabled children in receipt of the domiciliary care allowance are to be given access to free medical cards, according to a government memorandum to be discussed at Cabinet on Tuesday, writes Political Editor Daniel McConnell.

Ministers will be asked to approve the €10m a year measure when they meet, according to the memo, seen by the Irish Examiner.

At present, about 10,000 of the 33,000 disabled children under the age of 16 who get the domiciliary care allowance are not, for a number of reasons, entitled to a medical card, and therefore have to bear the high cost of treating their conditions.

According to the memo, under the Health Amendment Bill 2017, it is proposed that all children, irrespective of the severity of their condition who are in receipt of the domiciliary care allowance will be entitled automatically to a medical card.

The bill, being brought by Health Minister Simon Harris, has been a priority issue for the Independent Alliance minister Finian McGrath.

Sources close to the minister last night said he and Mr Harris have been “pushing hard” to deliver on this commitment and said this represents a major win for the Independent Alliance.

“We have been pushing hard to deliver this much- needed relief for the families of sick children. Yes, it is a good day for the Independent Alliance. Most importantly it will be a major break for those most affected,” the source close to Mr McGrath told the Irish Examiner.

Domiciliary care allowance is a non-means tested monthly payment for a child aged under 16 with a severe disability, who requires ongoing care and attention, substantially over and above the care and attention usually required by a child of the same age. The domiciliary care allowance rate is €309.50 per month.

The bill will also reduce the prescription charges for medical card holders over the age of 70 to €2 per item, subject to a cap of €20 per person or family per month from the beginning of March.

“In order to deliver on the timeline set out in Budget 2017, the minister for health, following consultation with the attorney general, has requested the Health Service Executive (HSE) to introduce the new charge on an administrative basis from March 1, 2017,” the memo states.

Ministers McGrath and Harris are seeking approval of the bill by Cabinet, permission to proceed with the passage of the bill through the Dáil and Seanad before sending it to President Michael D Higgins for early signature into law.

“To ensure the lower prescription charge for over 70s and their dependents is introduced on a statutory basis from April, an early signature from the President is requested,” the memo states.

Meanwhile, Mr Harris has welcomed the news that trade union Siptu has reached agreement with the HSE which has seen a threatened strike by support staff over working conditions. It was due to start on Monday week by about 10,000 staff including healthcare assistants, porters, cleaners and catering staff, but a deal was reached yesterday which will avert the disruption.

A source close to Mr Harris told the Irish Examiner: “At the start of the week, we had a doctors’ strike pending. That is now resolved. We had a Siptu health strike pending. That is now resolved. It has been a good week for the health service.”

This article first appeared in the Irish Examiner.

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