Medical Cards: What We Have Achieved and Why We Need Your Voice Again

By John Church

I’m writing to update you all on our medical card campaign, to thank you for the people with arthritisextraordinary support we’ve received so far and to urge you to continue fighting for people with arthritis by making your own submission on medical cards to the HSE.

Over the last month, I’m happy to report real progress. Having been inundated with calls and emails to our helpline, a great movement of people with arthritis has grown, gathered momentum and prompted a change.

This pressure culminated in an emergency meeting with the Minister for Health James Reilly last week, at which he apologised unreservedly to me for the scandal and promised me that he would fix the system so that medical cards are awarded on medical grounds too.

But we still have a lot of work to do to ensure that arthritis is on the list of approved conditions for a medical card. It is vital that the wave of anger and frustration around medical cards that has been channelled through our helpline, branches and on social media is now felt by the key decision makers and policy makers in the HSE and Department of Health. (Make your submission here now.)

It all started thanks a phenomenal response to our survey three weeks ago which meant we were the only patient organisation able to present Minister Reilly with comprehensive data on the impact of the medical card scandal on our community.

The results of that survey are deeply concerning. Of the 1,200 people who took part:

  • A quarter (23%) said they have/had a discretionary medical card
  • Almost two thirds (60%) of those admitted it had been either taken away or put under review
  • Of these, 69% have had their card taken away or placed under review in the last 6 months
  • It is an issue of even greater concern for children living with juvenile arthritis as 76% of parents said their discretionary cards had been taken away or placed under review

Below is just a selection of people’s responses when asked, “What does having the medical card taken away mean for you?”

  • “Have not been able to afford medication and have not had my Enbrel (medication) since February.”
  • “I am very upset and it is causing me a lot of stress and I will not be able to afford to pay for meds and pay for doctor and I am going into hospital for another knee replacement on 18th of June and am so worried about the operation .I should not have this stress as well.”
  • “It’s been 3 months now and I’ve called every 2 weeks and still no decision. Without my medical card, I won’t be able to afford the monthly infusions or daily meds I need to function on a daily basis…I’m so worried as without my medical card I won’t get the treatment I need and will end up completely disabled.”

I would like to say a HUGE thank you to everyone who took part in this survey. Having this data really strengthened our negotiating position with Minister Reilly and allowed us to feed the media’s appetite for proper statistics on the medical card issue. Being the only patient organisation to conduct a survey meant that the media were quick to cover our side of the story and we secured great coverage across print and broadcast media. Here are just a few samples: RTE News, Irish Examiner & Irish Independent.

We also conducted a cost analysis where we found that the added financial burden on a person with inflammatory arthritis was on average more than €5,500 per year, of which €3,500 is covered by a medical card. And in the case of juvenile arthritis, the average cost on a family was more than €7,000 per year with the medical card covering €3,500.

Costs covered by the medical card include medication, GP visits, blood tests, vaccinations, orthotics, eye tests and podiatry. Additonal costs not covered by the medical card include hospital travel expenses, private physiotherapy and occupational therapy, splints, sun cream and additional heating costs.

Minister for HealthAll of these figures, combined with the human stories of people who have lost their medical cards, allowed me to make a compelling argument to Minister Reilly as to why people with arthritis on expensive medical treatment should be in receipt of a medical card.

As mentioned above, Minister Reilly accepted that people had their cards unfairly withdrawn and said he was determined to introduce a system that will award medical cards based on medical need. I also asked him to consider the views and feedback from patients and patient organisations, like Arthritis Ireland, on what conditions should be included on the new system and he confirmed that he would.

With this in mind, the HSE are now taking public submissions on what conditions should entitle a person to a medical card. This is your opportunity to explain to the HSE why people with arthritis, who are forking out for expensive medical treatment every month, should be automatically entitled to a medical card. The application is simple, you can do it by post with this form here or online here.

Arthritis is often described as an invisible condition; this is your opportunity to let the HSE know the massive impact it has on your life.

By filling out the submission at the link below you can make a big impact on the HSE’s decision to ensure that arthritis is on the list of illnesses that are covered.

Read our submission to the HSE here.

Click here to fill out the form online now or for more information, please call our helpline on 1890 252 846.

Thanks again for your support. Change does not happen without your voice.

John Church, CEO