‘Missed opportunity’ to help cancer patients under government’s cost of living plan

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Cost-of-living measures are “a missed opportunity” to make life easier for cancer patients, including deciding not to cut hospitalization costs.

There was a disappointment this week when government-announced measures to mitigate the soaring cost of living failed to scrap the €80 hospital charge. It had been indicated earlier in the week that this change would be included in the package of measures.

Apart from certain exemptions such as medical card holders, people who need to go to a public hospital or stay overnight in a hospital as a public patient may be liable for hospital charges.

Rachel Morrogh, director of advocacy and external affairs at the Irish Cancer Society, said more support was needed now.

“This is a missed opportunity to make a big difference, something that will really hit the pockets of cancer patients. Hospitalization costs are very high, especially for someone who does not have a medical card and does not have private health insurance. I personally think they are the most vulnerable to health care costs,” she said.

Every year in Ireland, 45,000 people are newly diagnosed with some form of cancer, according to society data.

Ms Morrogh pointed to statistics showing that 46% of the population had health insurance in December last year. Another 32% have a medical card, with the possibility of some overlap between these two groups, she said.

That potentially leaves about one in five people out of the loop, relying on their savings to directly pay their health bills.

“We would have liked hospital costs to have been included in the cost of living measures that were announced last night,” she said.

A reduction in the drug plan threshold has been announced. This amount has been reduced to €80 per month, having been reduced to €100 per month in the 2022 budget, and Ms Morrogh welcomed this.

“Some of the measures will help keep pace with the rising cost of living,” she said.

We are very happy to see the change in the drug payment system, it is good news. But for cancer patients, their costs rise regardless of inflation and their incomes fall.

The announcement pointed out that this measure is in line with Sláintecare’s recommendations, however, this report included a recommendation to “reduce and eliminate hospitalization costs, reduce prescription costs”.

There was talk last week around the potential waiving of dispensing fees, but that also didn’t materialize.

These costs are already capped for holders of a medical card and over 70s.

Ms Morrogh called for a ‘more targeted effort’ from the government to help defray the cost of cancer treatment.

A motion presented to the Dáil by the Social Democrats last week highlighted some of these concerns.

Ms Morrogh said: ‘We would really like to see some action on this.

She welcomed the energy credit and increased fuel allowance, noting that patients receiving chemotherapy feel the cold more intensely than usual. A recent study found that 46% of cancer patients face higher heating bills after diagnosis.

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