THE IRISH Hospice Foundation, (IHF), is calling for an extension from six to 12 months of the eligibility period for the emergency medical card for people who are approaching the end of life.
In its submission to the expert group reviewing the emergency medical card system the IHF says it very much supports the current provision of medical cards without means test to those who are nearing the end of life.
However it says it is concerned that the current focus on specific conditions will overlook those who may not fit easily into any diagnosis, but for whom life expectancy is still limited, including older people who are becoming increasing frail.
It also wants particular sensitivities surrounding the applications for emergency medical cards for children to be looked at.
The expert group, established last month to review the emergency medical card system, is to recommend which medical conditions should automatically qualify for a medical card.
Currently people who are terminally ill and approaching end of life are entitled to a medical card for a six month period without means test, once the prognosis is certified by a medical practitioner.
The IHF believes that this review may also provide an opportunity to amend and, if possible, improve the process to take account of potential information gaps and to address sensitivities in cases where renewal of the card is required, including an extension of the eligibility period to 12 months.
The IHF says an estimated one in five patients who get medical cards on this basis live beyond six months – and that the renewal process may be upsetting for patients and their families.
“The renewal process where required should be handled sensitively with the certifying doctor being contacted for an update rather than a means test form being issued to the medical card holder as occasionally happens.”
“The IHF would recommend that HSE assurances in this regard would be made known to the qualifying patients and their healthcare team.”
In its submission the IHF also says that information on the availability of medical cards granted on terminal illness grounds needs to be made available on the HSE and other relevant websites in a form readily accessible to the general public.
It points out that there is no mention of the emergency medical card on terminal illness ground on the HSE website currently, with the result that people who would qualify but who do not have the services of a medical social worker or palliative care attendant may not be aware of their entitlement.
IHF Chief Executive Sharon Foley said the current provision of medical cards without means test for people who are approaching end of life is appropriate, compassionate and cost effective.
But she said the review must be used as an opportunity to amend and improve the process and fill gaps and address sensitivities.