Wednesday, 21 November 2012
Medical Card Reviews
I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Alex White. I have already spoken to him on the issue previously. It has been estimated that approximately 7,000 letters were received, mainly by pensioners in the Inishowen area of Donegal. The information I received on the ground is that the letters were received mainly by pensioners whose review date on the card in many cases specified 2015 but they were informed their cases would be reviewed in 2013. In addition, some people were issued with cards that have a review date of 2035, which is a long time.
I wonder whether the issue of medical cards with the expiry date of 2035 is a computer mistake or an action by the Department. I have spoken to constituents in Donegal who are concerned. I have advised them to supply the requested information and it is hoped they will not be refused a medical card. My reason for raising this matter is to ascertain whether this is a HSE western region policy, a national HSE policy or just an isolated incident. Clarification is required. The period leading up to the budget will result in uncertainty and scaremongering. People who believe they are entitled to the medical card are afraid to reply in case their card will be jeopardised.
I thank the Senator for raising this issue. As the Senator is aware, a new medical card scheme for persons aged 70 years or over was introduced with effect from 1 January 2009. Under this scheme, a person who is ordinarily resident in the State qualifies for a medical card so long as his or her gross income does not exceed the means test income limit. The income limit for a single person is ¤700 per week. The relevant income limit for a couple is ¤1,400 per week.
Under the provisions of the Health Act 1970, as amended, determination of eligibility for a medical card is the responsibility of the HSE. The HSE has produced national assessment guidelines to provide a clear framework to assist the making of reasonable, consistent and equitable decisions when assessing an applicant. These guidelines are publicly available and can be downloaded from the HSE's medical card website.
The standard procedure for the review of medical cards for persons aged 66 years or older is that their medical card will be reviewed every four years. For persons under the age of 66 years, the period of validity of a medical card is three years.
In the interest of fairness between medical cardholders, it is important that all people aged 70 or over are treated in like manner by the HSE. The HSE recently carried out an examination of its national medical card database. It found that some medical cards have expiry periods of more than four years and, in some cases, ten years or more. On foot of this examination, the HSE has identified about 7,000 medical cardholders throughout the country who have not been reviewed for ten years or more. Consequently, the HSE has started to contact these individuals. The HSE has sent review forms to approximately 1,500 people so far. While this is part of a nationwide exercise, the HSE has indicated that the majority of the people to whom it has written thus far, live in the HSE's north-west region, which includes County Donegal. The HSE will write to the remaining individuals over the coming weeks. Those individuals who have not been reviewed for ten years are being asked to complete a full review. However, the medical cards that they currently hold will not expire before January 2013 in order to give sufficient time for the forms to be completed.
Any medical cardholder undergoing a review for a renewed medical card, who genuinely engages with the HSE in that review, will not have his or her entitlement withdrawn before the review is complete, regardless of the expiry date shown on the medical card. In cases where a decision is made not to grant a medical card, the applicant will be informed of the decision and notified of his or her right to appeal this decision. Contact details for the appeals office are provided to the applicant with that decision. Where a person submits an appeal to a decision not to renew a medical card within 21 days of that decision, he or she will retain the medical card until the appeal is decided. In conclusion, all efforts are being made to deal with the individuals properly, fairly and impartially.
I thank the Minister of State for the explanation. I ask him to revert to me regarding the medical cards with the date of 2035 and the number of such cards which have been issued. Were they issued as a result of a glitch in the system? I know of a person with a medical card dated 2035. The person concerned is eligible for a medical card. I ask if the Minister of State's Department could issue a local notice about this matter in County Donegal or the north-west region. The perception in Donegal was that the county was being targeted as this problem did not arise in other areas. For example, people in Sligo did not have this problem. I ask if the Minister of State could give some good news to people in Donegal before the budget.
It may be as much related to the assiduous manner in which the Senator conducts his business in respect of contacts being made in Donegal that these issues have been brought to our attention. I will pursue the issue by way of supplementary inquiries. I was not aware - and I do not think it was reflected in the Senator's original question although he makes the point now - that some cards have been issued with that long period of validity and an expiry date of 2035. I will make inquiries because I would like to know the details of how the system works and how cards are dated with such a long expiry date. I emphasise the importance of the advice which the Senator gave to his constituents that individuals should co-operate by supplying the information sought. I would expect they would be treated in Donegal or in any part of the country, sensitively, properly and fairly. The Senator knows he can contact me if I can be of any further assistance in that regard.