Dáil Éireann - Volume 640 - 31 October, 2007
Written Answers. - Medical Cards.
Deputy Ulick Burke Deputy Ulick Burke
Deputy Ulick Burke asked the Minister for Health and Children her views on extending medical card cover to patients who are celiacs, asthmatics and diabetics; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [25958/07]
Deputy Mary Harney Deputy Mary Harney
Deputy Mary Harney: At present, medical cards are granted primarily on the basis of means and individual circumstances. Under the Health Act,  2004, determination of eligibility for medical cards is the responsibility of the Health Service Executive. Persons aged seventy years and over are automatically entitled to a medical card, irrespective of means. The HSE has discretion, in cases of exceptional need, to provide assistance to individuals where undue hardship would otherwise be caused.
Medical cards are made available to persons and their dependants who would otherwise experience undue hardship in meeting the cost of General Practitioner (GP) services. In 2005 the GP visit card was introduced as a graduated benefit so that people on lower incomes who do not qualify for a medical card would not be deterred on cost grounds from visiting their GP. In June 2006 I agreed with the HSE to raise the assessment guidelines for GP visit cards and these are now 50% higher than those in respect of medical cards. For Medical Card and GP Visit Card applications, the HSE now considers an applicant’s income after tax and PRSI are deducted, rather than total income. Allowances are also made for expenses on child care, rent and mortgage costs and the cost of travel to work.
I have no plans to provide for the granting of medical cards to any particular group as a whole. However, my Department is currently reviewing all legislation relating to eligibility for health and personal social services with a view to making the system as fair and transparent as possible.
As the Deputy may be aware, under the 1970 Health Act, the Health Service Executive may arrange for the supply, without charge, of drugs, medicines and medical and surgical appliances to people with a specified condition, for the treatment of that condition, through the Long Term Illness Scheme (LTI). The LTI does not cover GP fees or hospital co-payments. The conditions are: mental handicap, mental illness (for people under 16 only), phenylketonuria, cystic fibrosis, spina bifida, hydrocephalus, diabetes mellitus, diabetes insipidus, haemophilia, cerebral palsy, epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, muscular dystrophies, parkinsonism, conditions arising from thalidomide and acute leukaemia. There are currently no plans to extend the list of eligible conditions. Products which are necessary for the management of the specified illness are available to LTI patients. Other products are available according to the patient’s eligibility.
Non-medical card holders and people whose illness is not covered by the LTI can use the Drug Payment Scheme, which protects against excessive medicines costs. Under this scheme, no individual or family unit pays more than €85 per calendar month, or approximately €20 per week, towards the cost of approved prescribed medicines. The scheme is easy to use and significantly reduces the cost burden for families and individuals incurring ongoing expenditure on medicines.  In addition, the Deputy will be aware that non-reimbursed medical expenses above a set threshold may be offset against tax.
Deputy Michael Ring Deputy Michael Ring
Deputy Michael Ring asked the Minister for Health and Children the number of medical cards in County Mayo at 1 June for each of the past ten years; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [25959/07]
Deputy Mary Harney Deputy Mary Harney
Deputy Mary Harney: Medical cards are made available to persons and their dependants who would otherwise experience undue hardship in meeting the cost of General Practitioner (GP) services. In 2005 the GP visit card was introduced as a graduated benefit so that people on moderate and lower incomes, particularly parents of young children, who do not qualify for a medical card would not be deterred on cost grounds from visiting their GP.
Since the beginning of 2005 substantial changes have been made to the way in which people’s eligibility for a medical card is assessed and these apply equally to the assessment process for a GP visit card. The income guidelines have been increased by a cumulative 29% and in addition allowance is now made for reasonable expenses incurred in respect of mortgage/rent, child care, and travel to work costs. In June 2006 I agreed a further adjustment to the assessment guidelines for GP visit cards and these are now 50% higher than those in respect of medical cards.
As the Health Service Executive has the operational and funding responsibility for these benefits, it is the appropriate body to arrange to address this matter and to have a reply issued directly to the Deputy.
Dáil Éireann 640 Written Answers. Medical Cards.