Working in the Community, Working for the Community

Targeting of Medical Card Holders

Deputy Healy questions the Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore regarding Medical Card reviews, and the removal of discretionary Medical Cards from patients with Cancer and Motor Neuron Disease.

Séamus Healy (Tipperary South, Independent): When will the Government stop terrorising the sick and elderly across this country? The Government’s austerity budget of this year has targeted the withdrawal of 40,000 existing medical cards from the sick and elderly across the country. That policy is being implemented on the Government’s behalf by the Health Service Executive. It is not possible for me to overstate the fact that the sick and elderly are traumatised and in daily fear of losing their medical cards. The postman or postwoman, who has always been a welcome sight for the elderly, is now a source of anxiety in case he or she is bringing that dreaded white envelope that states that one is under review and gives the threat of one’s medical card being withdrawn.

Let us be clear what is happening. The sick and elderly are being targeted by the Government to pay banks and bondholders and to protect the 10,000 top earners in this country, who each earn on average €595,000 per year. These medical card holders are being specially and specifically targeted. They are in their 60s, 70s, 80s and even 90s. Their cards are not due to be reviewed. They hold current, fully valid medical cards assessed and approved by the Health Service Executive with expiry dates up to 2020, but they are now being punished to satisfy the greed of bankers and bondholders. Does the Tánaiste think this is fair, and will he do anything about it? Has he or the Government any compassion for the sick and elderly?
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Seán Barrett (Ceann Comhairle; Dún Laoghaire, Ceann Comhairle)
I thank Deputy Healy.

Séamus Healy (Tipperary South, Independent)
Will the Tánaiste immediately instruct the Health Service Executive to desist from punishing and hounding the elderly?

It has always been the case – I will finish with this – that persons with medical conditions that require urgent or ongoing medical treatment have qualified for discretionary medical cards. That practice has now stopped. Persons with cancer diagnoses and with, for instance, motor neuron disease are now being disqualified from eligibility for the discretionary medical card. I am sure the Tánaiste believes that is unfair also. I ask him to ensure that such a practice stops and that the Health Service Executive is instructed to ensure that these patients get their discretionary medical cards.
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Eamon Gilmore (Tánaiste; Minister, Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade; Dún Laoghaire, Labour)
There are more persons today with medical cards than at any time in the history of the State.

Michael Healy-Rae (Kerry South, Independent)
Tell that to those who are looking for one.

Eamon Gilmore (Tánaiste; Minister, Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade; Dún Laoghaire, Labour)
There are currently 50%—–
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Mattie McGrath (Tipperary South, Independent)
Men.

Eamon Gilmore (Tánaiste; Minister, Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade; Dún Laoghaire, Labour)
—–who have medical cards. This is at a time when, as we are all aware, there has been extreme pressure on the public finances.
It has always been the case that medical cards are reviewed upon renewal. The Government’s approach is that medical card applications should be looked at sympathetically. The financial circumstances of individuals and their medical needs are taken into account.

We have all had experience of individual cases that, from time to time, have had to be pursued with the HSE about the issue of a medical card, but I assure Deputy Healy there is no targeting of any medical card holders. The Government is clearly determined that the medical needs of persons in this country are met. That is why we have worked so hard to restore the country’s public finances so that we can continue to meet the needs of those who need medical cards and, as I stated, there are more medical cards under this Government than were ever issued in the history of the State.

Séamus Healy (Tipperary South, Independent)
The Tánaiste almost boasts that the number of medical cards have increased. So they have, but, of course, that is far from an achievement. That is, in fact, an indictment of the Government. It is an indictment of the austerity policies that have driven employees out of work, that have driven incomes down and that have put applicants under medical card limits that are most stringent and have already been reduced this year. Far from being an achievement, this is an indictment of the austerity policies of the Government and it is certainly not anything to boast about.

The Tánaiste has engaged in the usual practice. He has not answered the question. I asked him specifically about medical cards being reviewed which are not for review and about discretionary medical cards for particular cases. He has chosen not to answer those questions. Of course, that is the usual tactic in this Chamber. The Tánaiste may very well get away with that here in the rarefied atmosphere of the Dáil Chamber but he certainly will not get away with it when he knocks on doors for local and European elections next year.

Seán Barrett (Ceann Comhairle; Dún Laoghaire, Ceann Comhairle)
I thank Deputy Healy.

Séamus Healy (Tipperary South, Independent)
I also want to ask the Tánaiste when the medical card income limits will be reviewed and increased. Whether or not he knows it, they have not been increased since 2006. In fact, some of these limits – including that pertaining to travel to work, which is discriminatory towards those living in rural areas where no public transport is available – have worsened over the past 12 months. I ask the Tánaiste to immediately instruct the HSE to ensure that the sick and elderly are not targeted and that medical problems are dealt with on a discretionary basis, particularly for cancer and motor neuron disease cases.

Eamon Gilmore (Tánaiste; Minister, Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade; Dún Laoghaire, Labour)
It is perfectly clear that Deputy Healy raised this issue to make a political point and a political charge against the Government, particularly the Labour Party.

Eamon Gilmore (Tánaiste; Minister, Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade; Dún Laoghaire, Labour)
I want to answer it in that fashion. The Deputy says we have targeted medical card holders. He wants to give the impression that the Government is taking medical cards from people. I have told the Deputy that it is a fact that more medical cards have been issued under this Government than has ever happened before.

Séamus Healy (Tipperary South, Independent)
The Tánaiste should deal with the specific cases.

Eamon Gilmore (Tánaiste; Minister, Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade; Dún Laoghaire, Labour)
I cannot deal with specific cases unless the Deputy provides me with the detail. If the Deputy wishes to give me the detail of specific cases—–

An Ceann Comhairle:
This is Leaders’ Questions. The Deputy can put questions to the Minister for Health.


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