The cull of discretionary medical cards was "the most misguided political decision in years", according to the group representing seriously ill or disabled children who suffered as a result of card withdrawals.
As the Health Minister, Leo Varadkar, prepares to announce a new approach to medical card assessments today, the campaign group, Our Children’s Health, said it will take a long time before families of sick children regain their trust in the Government.
The group of parents was established during the height of the medical card scandal and has held protests outside the Taoiseach’s office three days a week since last spring.
It has gathered 63,000 signatures for its petition to amend the 1970 Health Act to ensure all children with a serious illness or congenital condition were automatically entitled to a full medical card.
The measures to be announced today will not go as far as the group hopes, but Our Children’s Health believes it will be a positive step after what it describes as “18 months of pointless probity”.
The widespread withdrawal of medical cards throughout 2013 — as first highlighted in the Irish Examiner — and a decision to impose further cuts in Budget 2014 — was behind the huge defeats for Fine Gael and Labour in May’s local elections.
Our Children’s Health spokesperson, Peter Fitzpatrick, said: “Whoever decided in the first place to take millions out of the medical card budget made the most misguided political decision in years.
“There will always be a fear at the back of parents’ minds that they will lose their card because of the mistrust that has developed between them and the Government.”
Under the new plans, financial means will remain as the main criterion for assessing medical card eligibility. But if applicants are refused a card on these grounds, they can re-apply on the grounds of “medical hardship”.
An advisory group is to be established to draw up guidelines for assessing medical hardship, which will replace the old system based on “undue financial hardship” as a result of a condition.
“By introducing the principle of medical hardship, they take account of the burden of the disease,” said Mr Fitzpatrick. “Before, they only took account of the financial situation.”
But he is concerned that parents will have to go through the same test as before “which is like an extensive financial audit”. He said it would be better if the minister changed the existing law, dating back more than 40 years, and allow parents to apply in the first place on the grounds of medical need.
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