Written Answers. - Long-term Illness Scheme.

Róisín Shortall

Question:

222 Ms Shortall asked the Minister for Health and Children if he will consider the addition of haemochromatosis to the list of conditions covered by the long-term illness scheme in view of the cost of drugs associated with this condition and the difficulties which this causes for sufferers; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5250/00]

I presume the Deputy is referring to haemochromatosis and I understand that the treatment of this condition is often hospital based. The long-term illness scheme entitles persons to free drugs and medicines which are prescribed in respect of a specific schedule of illnesses. The illnesses covered by this scheme are: mental handicap, mental illness, for persons under 16 years only, phenylketonuria, cystic fibrosis, spina bifida, hydrocephalus, diabetes melitus, diabetes insipidus, haemophilia, cerebral palsy, epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, muscular dystrophies, parkinsonism and acute leukaemia.

The long-term illness scheme has not been extended since 1975 and there are no plans to extend the scheme, having regard to the other schemes available to help people with the cost of drugs and medicines. For example, people who are unable without undue hardship to arrange for the provision of medical services for themselves and their dependants may be entitled to a medical card. Eligibility for a medical card is solely a matter for the chief executive officer of the relevant health board to decide. In determining eligibility for a medical card, the local health board has regard to the financial circumstances of the applicant. Income guidelines are used by health boards to assist in determining a person's eligibility. However, even though a person's income exceeds the guidelines, the person may still be awarded a medical card if the chief executive officer considers that the person's medical needs or other circumstances would justify this. Medical cards may also be issued to individual family members on this basis.

Non medical card holders can avail of the drug payment scheme, which was introduced on 1 July 1999 with a threshold of £42 per individual or family unit. The primary aim of the new scheme is to bring about improvements over previous schemes and it is designed to be user friendly and to significantly improve the cash flow for families and individuals incurring ongoing expenditure on medicines.