Just weeks into his new role as Health Minister Leo Varadkar has urged lobby groups not to "attack and weaken" him because it could hinder efforts to protect his department’s budget.
He was speaking after groups representing sick children and their families questioned his “personal commitment” to fix the medical card system, and sought an urgent meeting with him to discuss what appeared to be a shift in policy on the issue.
Mr Varadkar said last night that “no promises or commitments” can be given until a report is produced in September by an expert panel, examining how the Government should proceed with promised new laws to award medical cards based on medical need.
However, Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin accused Mr Varadkar of taking a position in advance of the expert group’s deliberations.
He said the system of awarding cards on the basis of discretion — which has operated for years — particularly for people with debilitating conditions, should be resumed.
“Medical conditions was being dealt with. But this Government meddled with and messed it up,” said Mr Martin. “Up until about two years ago, if you had a serious illness or condition, you got a medical card.”
Fine Gael backbenchers said the plans to award medical cards based on medical needs must go ahead, despite Mr Varadkar’s warnings that it would be “very difficult” to implement.
Cork East TD Tom Barry said there was a “strong desire for this legislation to go ahead, that is what the people are asking for.”
He said he was disappointed that Mr Varadkar appeared to be “throwing cold water” on the plans.
Galway East TD Paul Connaughton said the current system, based on laws dating back to the 1970s, is “not fit for purpose”.
Calling for a more co-operative approach between his department and campaign groups, Mr Varadkar said: “I’m going into very difficult budget negotiations in the next few months to try and procure the biggest possible budget for health. And having health interest groups attack me and weaken me is not good for health or people who need to use health services.”
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