Tuesday, 31 January 2006
Dáil Eireann Debate
197. Mr. Wall asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if her attention has been drawn to the fact that 12% of the population suffers from asthma and that there have been calls for a nationwide asthma strategy that does not exist at present; if her attention has been drawn to the fact that asthma related admissions to hospitals range between 6,000 and 7,000 annually; her views on the absence of asthma on the primary care reimbursement service’s long-term illness scheme; the actions she intends to take; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [3049/06]
Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney): While Ireland has experienced an increase in the incidence of asthma, I would point out to the Deputy that the incidence in Ireland is similar to that in other developed countries. A number of initiatives have been taken in recent years with regard to this condition. These initiatives include research and the co-ordination of an EU policy on asthma. While my Department has no plans to develop a specific asthma strategy, I understand that the HSE is developing measures on asthma as part of its actions on chronic illnesses.
Prior to 1971, there were inadequate provisions for people with excessive medical and medicines expenses. In 1971 the long-term illness scheme, LTI, was introduced whereby the Health Service Executive may arrange for the supply without charge of drugs, medicines and medical and surgical appliances to people with a specified condition for the treatment of that condition. The LTI does not cover general practitioner fees or hospital co-payments. The conditions are mental handicap, mental illness for people under 16 only, phenylketonuria, cystic fibrosis, spina bifida, hydrocephalus, diabetes mellitus, diabetes insipidus, haemophilia, cerebral palsy, epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, muscular dystrophies, parkinsonism, conditions arising from thalidomide and acute leukaemia.
From 1971 onwards people who cannot, without undue hardship, arrange for the provision of medical services for themselves and their dependants may be entitled to a medical card. In November 2004, the Government provided funding for an additional 30,000 medical cards, and for 200,000 new GP visit cards, which allow holders to receive general practitioner services free of charge. In June last year, I simplified the means test for both medical and GP visit cards. It is now based on an applicant’s and spouse’s income after income tax and PRSI and takes account of reasonable expenses incurred in respect of rent or mortgage payments, child care and travel to work. On 13 October 2005, I announced that the income guidelines for both medical and GP visit cards would be increased by an additional 20%. This means the income guidelines are now 29% higher than prior to these measures.
Non-medical card holders and people with conditions not covered under the LTI can use the drug payment scheme, DPS. Under this scheme, no individual or family unit pays more than €85 per calendar month towards the cost of approved prescribed medicines. The scheme is user-friendly and significantly improves cash flow for families and individuals for families and individuals incurring ongoing expenditure on medicines. In addition, medical expenses above a set threshold may be offset against tax.
The introduction of the medical card and DPS ensures that no individual or family is faced with undue financial hardship as a result of expenditure on drugs and medicines. Consequently, there are no plans to extend the LTI.
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