Nearly two out of three people with arthritis who have or had discretionary medical cards say their cards have recently been taken away or placed under review, according to a new survey.
Among these patients are children suffering from juvenile arthritis.
The support Group Arthritis Ireland has called on the Government to take action on the withdrawal of cards from seriously ill people and has urged the HSE to ensure that arthritis patients on expensive drugs are given medical cards right away.
According to a new Arthritis Ireland survey, 23% of 1,200 people with arthritis who were surveyed said they currently have or have had a discretionary medical card.
Almost two-thirds of them (60%) said their card had either been taken away or put under review.
Of these, 69% said their card had been withdrawn or put under review in the past six months.
Just over three quarters of parents surveyed said the discretionary cards of their children with juvenile arthritis had had their cards taken away or placed under review.
According to Arthritis Ireland, the medical card reviews and withdrawals are causing added financial pressure and distress on a group of people who are already living daily in severe pain.
In the survey, some patients said they have not been able to take their specialist medication as a result of no longer having a medical card. People without medical cards must pay €144 per month in drugs costs before the State subsidy under the Drug Payments Scheme kicks in.
Arthritis Ireland points out that arthritis is the single biggest cause of disability in Ireland, affecting almost one million people of all ages.
John Church, CEO of Arthritis Ireland, said although the Government has stated that there is no policy to cut discretionary medical cards, the results of the survey suggest otherwise.
"People with arthritis already face significant challenges living day-to-day with the severe pain and fatigue of arthritis and it is inhumane to place them under further financial hardship and distress by taking away their medical cards."
Mr Church said Arthritis Ireland was particularly concerned for families of children with juvenile arthritis as more than three quarters have had their cards placed under review or taken away.
"Parents are already facing totally unacceptable waiting list times of over 18 months to see a rheumatologist, despite the guidelines recommending a maximum of four-six weeks."
Arthritis Ireland has provided a full breakdown on their website - www.arthritisireland.ie - of what people with arthritis need to do in the event of their medical card being taken away or placed under review. The charity's National Helpline (1890 252 846) is also available to help people who are experiencing difficulties with their medical cards.