Dáil Éireann - Volume 491 - 03 June, 1998

Written Answers. - Medical Cards.

184. Mr. Higgins (Mayo) asked the Minister for Health and Children if he is prepared to grant medical cards to Downs Syndrome children; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [12905/98]

Minister for Health and Children (Mr. Cowen): Entitlement to health services in Ireland is primarily based on means. Under the Health Act, 1970, determination of eligibility for medical [1296] cards is the responsibility of the chief executive officer of the appropriate health board. Medical cards are issued to persons who, in the opinion of the chief executive officer, are unable to provide general practitioner medical and surgical services for themselves and their dependants without undue hardship.

Income guidelines have been drawn up by the chief executive officers to assist in the determination of a person's eligibility and are revised annually in line with the consumer price index. However, these guidelines are not statutorily binding and even though a person's income exceeds the guidelines, he/she may still be awarded a medical card if the chief executive officer considers that his/her medical needs or other circumstances would justify this. Medical cards may also be issued to individual family members on this basis.

In view of this special provision it is felt that it is not justifiable, on health policy grounds, to extend an automatic entitlement to a medical card to any specific group without reference to their means or in the case of children, to their parents' means, as a general rule, particularly in view of the many areas of pressing need in the health services and the limited resources available to meet them. It is open to all persons to apply to the chief executive officer of the appropriate health board for health services if they are unable to provide these services for themselves or their dependents wihtout hardship.

Under the long-term illness scheme operated by health boards, children and adults suffering from a number of conditions including mental handicap can obtain, without charge, the prescribed drugs and medicines necessary for the treatment of that condition. In addition, children receiving treatment for mental handicap are exempt from public hospital statutory charges.