Taoiseach Enda Kenny is facing mounting pressure to clarify if radical medical card system reforms will still take place, after Health Minister Leo Varadkar appeared to row back on the vital plans.
Patient groups last night called for meetings with both officials and vowed to resume protesting outside the Taoiseach’s office from today, after Mr Varadkar suggested that the reforms should not take place.
Just a week after taking up the pressurised Department of Health role, Mr Varadkar sparked outrage on Friday by claiming plans to base the medical card system on someone’s health instead of their financial needs “would not be realistic”.
He said the policy change could mean almost everyone would be entitled to the help, claiming that creating a “hierarchy of illnesses” is not a workable solution.
Mr Varadkar stressed he will wait until an expert review panel reports in September before making any firm decision on the matter.
However, his remarks caused anger among patient groups affected by a long- term cull on discretionary medical cards. They insisted the Taoiseach must now clarify if the reforms are still on the agenda.
Our Children’s Health, a group set up by the family of a nine-year-old cancer survivor specifically to force through the reforms, said in a statement: “Minister Varadkar’s comments that a medical need-based approach would be ‘unrealistic’ and ‘very difficult’ seriously undermines the ongoing work of the expert panel. He has put himself at odds with everything the Taoiseach said to us.
“Mr Varadkar’s comments signal a personal lack of commitment to stated policy.
“We cannot continue to have a situation where the limited resources of the health service are directed to provide medical cards unconditionally and universally to specific age groups, while a child with a serious cancer diagnosis has no such entitlement unless their parents financial circumstances meet the terms of a crude means test.”
Our Children’s Health said that, “as a result of the confusion over the future of medical card reforms”, it is seeking “an urgent meeting with both Mr Kenny and Mr Varadkar”.
The group said it will also return to protesting outside the Taoiseach’s office from 7am every Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday until there is clarity on the matter.
The group’s calls for clarity were echoed by the Jack and Jill Foundation, which caters for children with life-limiting illnesses. CEO Jonathan Irwin said Mr Varadkar’s comments have thrown worried families “back to square one”.
“In spite of the [Oireachtas] summer break we need urgent clarification on the matter now,” he said.
“Our families don’t get a summer break. For Mr Varadkar to make this cruel statement and then head for the hills, off on his summer holiday, is torture.”
Around 13,000 people with serious illnesses or profound disabilities who lost their cards during the discretionary medical card cull have had them restored in recent weeks.
However, the supports will only be retained by them for a year, pending legislation governing the scheme coming into effect.
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