I support the Bill's passage. However, we are against a very unhappy backdrop in dealing with this matter and it would be wrong of us to let this occasion go by without reflecting on some of the widely shared concerns in regard to medical cards. We are providing for GP-only cards for all children up to the age of six years. Also, we are advised that some 15,300 people who lost their medical cards since 2011 will receive notices by letter that these cards are being reinstated in the next two or three weeks. This, because of the criteria set down, is confined to former holders of medical cards on a discretionary basis, related to hardship caused by particular illnesses, conditions or disabilities. Those concerned must, as criteria No. 2 states, have submitted documentation to the HSE when they were notified that their cards were being reviewed.
There is a significant discrepancy. The Minister of State has cited the figures, as have other Government voices in recent weeks. There is a huge discrepancy between the number of people in the category I have just described - some 15,300 - and the number of medical cards that have been removed under this heading.
Somewhere in the order of 30,000 has been suggested by the director of primary care, Mr. Hennessy. I have no doubt that many people who had their discretionary medical cards taken from them looked at the situation, at what was happening and being reported and decided there was no point in proceeding with the review process. Others among them might not have been able to do so for a variety of reasons including issues of personal competency or ill health. I have already posed the question as to whether people who validly held medical cards under the discretionary heading but did not proceed with the review process will now be excluded from the restoration process just announced. If so, that will compound a very serious situation.
Will there be a process of appeal or review for those who have had their medical cards cut over the relevant period but who do not receive a letter in the coming weeks? What can they do? There are thousands of them - according to the numbers the Minister of State has reported to us, some seven odd thousand of the 15,000 referred to previously. What about those who applied for cards on discretionary grounds over the relevant period, 2011 to 2014, whose applications were refused? This is important, given that the same criteria of assessment were applied to such people over those years as to those who had their medical cards taken from them. Surely they are equally entitled to have their situation taken into account now. These are matters that will not go away. All of the wishful thinking in the world will not set those particular discrepancies aside.
There is also an issue with regard to recompense. The Minister of State has very strongly rejected appeal after appeal from Opposition Deputies. I have no doubt that such appeals are also coming from Government Deputies, albeit in a more hushed tone. It is absolutely essential that for whatever period of time we have to wait for the introduction of universal entitlement that-----