Entitlement to public health care

Categories 1 and 2

Entitlement to public health care

There are two categories of entitlement to public health care in Ireland. Category 1 eligibility (a Medical Card) entitles you to nearly all medical services without charge; Category 2 entitles you to only a limited range of services without charge.

Medical Card

EEA citizens resident in Ireland but insured in another EEA country automatically receive a Medical Card, as do pensioners and those seeking work in Ireland. Otherwise, eligibility for Medical Cards is means tested, i.e. assessed according to your income. The upper income limit is adjusted annually in January and varies according to age, family status and other factors. In general, Category 1 eligibility applies to those with low incomes (officially around 36 per cent of the population).

A Medical Card entitles you to free GP services; in-patient and out-patient services in a public hospital; dental, optical and aural services and appliances; and maternity and infant care during pregnancy and for up to six weeks after birth. Prescribed drugs and medicines usually cost €1.50 per prescription item, up to a maximum total of €19.50 per month. This depends on whether you qualify for a specific scheme such as the Long Term Illness Scheme. 

Full-time students between the ages of 16 and 25 who are financially independent of their parents may also be entitled to a medical card.

Category 2

Everyone else who’s entitled to public health care falls into Category 2. You will be charged to visit your family GP if you don't have a GP Visit Card. If you wish to go to hospital, but are not referred by a GP, you must pay an initial hospital charge. This is currently set at €100 per day or visit. You will also have to pay for medicines and prescriptions, routine dental, optical or aural treatment.

In Ireland, you will not be charged for maternity care; to receive treatment for prescribed infectious diseases, or for a child of up to 6 weeks of age who needs to receive care.

If you receive treatment as an out-patient without a GP referral, you will be charged the hospital fee of €100. If you return to the out-patient department for the  same illness, you will not be charged again. You will also be charged for in-patient accommodation and visits to Accident & Emergency departments.

With a referral from your family doctor, you can receive public hospital services such as an assessment from a consultant, as well as diagnostic tests such as x-rays and laboratory tests.

Retirees & the Elderly

Many people are ill-prepared for old age and the possibility of health problems, although you’re better provided for in Ireland than in many other countries. All retirees over 65, whether or not they have a Medical Card, are entitled to regular visits by a public health nurse and, if required, occupational therapy. Meals on wheels and a home help service are provided by voluntary organisations on behalf of the Health Board, usually for a small fee (a list of voluntary organisations is available from the National Social Service Board, Tel. 01-605 9000).

There are also grants for security devices for elderly people living alone, although these aren’t usually paid directly to individuals. Other schemes offer home improvement grants, free draught proofing and insulation (in some parts of the country), and house alterations for disabled people. The only universal benefit for elderly people is free travel, for which everyone over 66 qualifies, but even that has various conditions attached.

GP Visit Cards

If you don't have a medical card, you may still be eligible to receive a GP Visit Card. This is means tested, and provides GP services for free, if your income is under a certain level. This level is fixed at 50% higher than that required to qualify for a medical card.

Further reading

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