I propose to take Questions Nos. 137 to 139, inclusive, together.
The Health Service Executive, with my full support, has decided to centralise the processing of all medical card and GP visit card applications and renewals at its Primary Care Reimbursement Service (PCRS) in Dublin. Applications from people whose income exceeds the income guidelines but have a case to be considered on medical or hardship grounds will also be processed by the PCRS. The process commenced in January 2009 when the PCRS took over the processing of all medical card applications for persons aged 70 or over. The second phase commenced in September 2009 with the transfer of the case load from two local health offices in Dublin to the PCRS. The phased implementation allows the situation to be continuously monitored and, if required, modified to address any issues arising. The PCRS has processed over 63,000 medical card applications since the start of 2009.
The HSE has advised that the transfer of the case load from the two local health offices included a backlog of some 6,500 cases. These are being dealt with as a matter of urgency by the PCRS. As a result, resources which would have been deployed in customer relations and phone answering have been assigned to deal with this backlog. The HSE is providing additional resources to respond to phone queries, the majority of which relate to the outstanding applications. The HSE has advised my Department that local health offices will continue to deal with queries of a general nature about the medical card scheme and will provide any assistance needed with the application process.
The HSE has recently put in place a national on-line system to allow local health offices track the current status of applications in the PCRS. The HSE has indicated that a facility is now available where a person can view the status of their medical card application on-line and if a mobile phone number is supplied with an application, updates by text message will be delivered to the applicant's phone. The HSE has advised that when fully implemented, this measure will ensure:
Improved turnaround time for the processing of applications (A turnaround time of 15 days or less for all medical card applications. Emergency applications will be dealt with immediately with a card issuing within 24 hours);
Equitable application of eligibility across the country;
Consistency of service provision to customers;
Clearer lines of governance and accountability; and
Improved unified data.
My Department is currently in discussion with the HSE about putting in place a dedicated telephone number for Oireachtas members for enquiries about applications being processed by the PCRS.
In relation to the specific issues raised by the Deputy about the processing of medical card applications and reviews in respect of persons aged 70 or over, such persons are now required to undergo a means assessment. Under this assessment the person is required to complete a simplified review form, and provide up-to-date evidence of their income. To date this year, 26,713 reviews in respect of persons aged 70 or over and their dependants have been received in the PCRS. The HSE has reported the following in relation to these reviews:
22,726 (85%) have been completed with eligibility confirmed to the client.
Additional information has been requested from 3,194 persons (12%).
735 (2.8%) are currently going through the assessment process.
58 (0.2%) lost eligibility as their current income is above the income thresholds.
85% of the completed reviews, where all the relevant information was supplied, were completed within 20 days, with 95% completed within 30 days.
The HSE has indicated that it has no control over delays where relevant information is not provided but it has confirmed that when the required information is received, the review is processed without further delay.