Expert rejects claims reforms are not enough

The chair of the expert panel behind the medical card reforms has rejected claims the changes do not go far enough and mean patients still have complicated "hoops to jump through".

Prof Frank Keane, who was in charge of the 23-strong group tasked with examining the system, made the comments as patient groups raised concerns over how the new system will work.

Under plans announced by Health Minister Leo Varadkar, local areas will have a greater input in centralised medical card decisions.

While the focus on a person’s finances will remain, attempts will be made to extend the “burden of illness” rule to include medical issues, while people with terminal conditions will not have to re-apply for the help.

However, while the measures were initially given a guarded welcome yesterday, groups involved raised concerns over their exact details — with Prof Keane forced to reject claims the changes do not go far enough.

Speaking on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland, he said it was “not possible” to find a way to ensure people with certain medical conditions are automatically entitled to help, as had been originally sought by Government.

Stressing any service has to be worked within “finite resources,” he said there is no way to fully remove the financial rules relating to an applicant from the system.

Prof Keane argued the new clinical advisory group will be tasked with ensuring non-finance-focussed elements are included.

However, when asked what changes would be obvious for anyone applying for help now, he said reforms could take nine months and that he doesn’t know when the new group will be in place.

Our Children’s Health said while the plans should result in an “improved assessment system,” the “application process is unlikely to be any less onerous”.

The group said it was concerned the “rigorous financial audit” of applicants remains, with “little recognition” of the difficulties people facing health issues have in entering this process.

A similar view was put forward by the Jack and Jill Foundation, which said it had concerns over the lack of specific guidelines for seriously ill children.

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