The Irish Examiner reports that hundreds of elderly people in nursing homes have been losing medical cards because their payments towards their care are not considered in assessments of their income.

Age Action said a review of the medical card system must take account of the impact on over-70s who have to earn a gross income less than €500 a week individually or €900 as a couple.

Those availing of the Fair Deal nursing home scheme pay 80% of their income to the State for the cost of their care. “From the remaining 20% of their income they are now expected to pay for their medications, their physiotherapy and chiropody, and a list of other costs which are not covered by the Fair Deal,” said Age Action spokesman Eamon Timmins.

“It is causing great hardship for older people and their families and must be addressed by the medical card review.”

As the Government scrambles to contain the escalating medical card crisis, there is still no certainty on when seriously ill people or children with lifelong conditions who have lost their cards will get them back.

The HSE last night announced the establishment of an expert group which will identify a range of conditions — in priority order — that would qualify someone for a medical card.

The panel — chaired by Frank Keane, former president of the Royal College of Surgeons Ireland and to include GP and patient representatives as well as experts in public health, palliative care, and disabilities — will report back by September.

A separate process is under way by Health Minister James Reilly and junior health minister Alex White to establish how cards can be reinstated.

They have been given two weeks to decide how this will be done and it is expected that laws will need to be drafted by the cabinet and passed by the Dáil.

Fine Gael backbench TDs say this must be done before the House breaks for summer early next month.

Public Expenditure Minister Brendan Howlin said the Government would establish an “objective system” that “takes account not only of financial means, but also of health criteria”.

Mr Howlin — who has been blamed by Dr Reilly for imposing the cuts in last October’s budget — insisted yesterday that there was “no cull or no intention of having a cull of medical cards”.

The chairman of the Oireachtas Health Committee, Fine Gael TD Jerry Buttimer, said the Government will learn from its mistakes.

He encouraged people to participate in a public consultation on the issue which is getting under way today. His former Fine Gael colleague, Lucinda Creighton, said she has heard of hundreds of cases of elderly people losing their medical cards while paying for their nursing home care.

She said this goes against the HSE’s guidelines set out when the income limits were reduced in last October’s budget, which state that if an older person is above the income threshold, they might still qualify for a general medical card “if his or her circumstances are causing financial hardship, eg medical costs, nursing home costs, etc”.

People Before Profit TD Joan Collins said she was aware of an elderly man who lost his medical card when he started receiving the €10 over-80s’ allowance which put him just €1 over the income threshold.

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