Services may be provided instead of full medical card

Specific medical services could be provided to patients or people with disabilities instead of a full medical card, the health minister has indicated.

Leo Varadkar has made a number of public comments in recent days on the Government’s previous commitment to award medical cards based on medical needs — and not just income — which he believes may not be feasible.

His predecessor, James Reilly, had put in place an expert panel which he said would examine “how we can, into the future, make sure that people with medical conditions get a medical card, not based on income, but based on their medical condition”.

Mr Varadkar said yesterday that he will await the report of the group, made up of 23 medical professionals as well as patient representatives.

“What they are looking at is how medical services, not necessarily medical cards, can be extended to people on the basis of medical need regardless of their income,” Mr Varadkar said.

Some 13,000 people with serious illnesses or disabilities have had their medical cards — which had been withdrawn in the past number of years — restored in recent weeks. These will run out next year pending a longer term solution being put in place by the Government.

Mr Varadkar said this week that while they would not lose these cards, “no promises or commitments” can be given on how the scheme will be changed in the long term, until the group reports in September.

He had earlier sparked fresh concern among parent and patient groups when he indicated that laws providing medical cards based on need may not be workable. “Personally, I think it’s going to be very difficult to create a hierarchy of illnesses.”

Meanwhile, Mr Varadkar has been given Cabinet approval to draft laws providing free GP care for over-70s. It is expected the laws will be in place by the end of this year or early next year.

It will be followed by the extension of free GP care for all children.


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