Health insurance is incredibly expensive and a €50 bill every time you need to go to the doctor isn’t exactly welcome. But guess what, you might not have to pay either.
The General Medical Card scheme was put in place to allow people to access family doctor or GP services, community health services, dental services, prescription medicine costs, hospital care and a range of other benefits free of charge. It is aimed at those who cannot afford to pay these bills themselves and if you are on a low wage or incur a lot of medical expenses, you may qualify.
Many people don’t bother applying for a medical card as they think that it will be too complicated or that they probably won’t qualify but a GP Card scheme was introduced a number of years ago so even if you don’t get a full card, you won’t have to worry about your bank balance before dragging your sick self to the doctor’s surgery.
Luckily, you just send one application to apply for both so here’s everything you need to know.
Am I eligible for a full medical card?
Anyone over the age of 16 years who is ordinarily resident in the State can apply for a medical card but if you are financial dependent on your parents or guardians, they need to apply. If your only income is a means-tested Social Welfare Allowance, you will qualify. Otherwise, your income will have to come under the guidelines set by the HSE and these differ depending on whether you are aged over or under 70.
For those aged under 66, the weekly limit is €184 for a single person and €266.50 for a married or cohabiting couple, with additional allowances for children. Those between the ages of 66 and 69 have a slightly higher rate of €201.50 for a single person and €298 for a couple. These figures are based on gross income, less tax, USI and PRSI and a more detailed breakdown is available here.
What about a GP Visit card?
The income guidelines for GP Visit Cards are higher than the medical card and the allowances for rent, mortgage and childcare bring many people’s income within the guidelines. You will get a GP Visit Card if the combined means of you and your spouse/partner is below the income guidelines.
For those aged over 66-years-old, the income limit for a single person is €276 and for a couple, it is €400. If you’re aged between 66 and 69, the limits are €302 and €447.
Are there any exceptions to this?
If your income is above the guidelines for your circumstances, you may still be entitled to a medical card on the grounds that paying for your medical costs cause you undue financial hardship. According to the HSE, these include instances such as an having an ongoing medical condition that required exceptional and regular medical treatment, or visits to the doctor or hospital.
Certain people who are ordinarily resident in Ireland automatically qualify for a card and while they still need to complete an application form, they don’t need to meet the criteria. These include people who have EU entitlement or are eligible under Government schemes.
How do I apply?
Applying for a medical card is fairly straightforward and simply involves filling out an application form, supplying proof of income and any relevant outgoings, and getting the form signed by an eligible GP.
You can apply online here or by downloading the relevant form here and posting it to the Client Registration Unit, PO Box 11745, Dublin 11. You can also collect an application form from your local health office or call a HSE customer care team member on 1890 252 919 and ask them to post an application form to you.
What will it cover?
You are entitled to the following services if you have a Medical Card:
- Doctor visits – a range of family doctor or GP services from a chosen doctor contracted to the HSE in your local area;
- Prescription medicines, subject to a €2.50 charge
- Certain dental, ophthalmic (eye), and aural (ear) health services;
- Hospital care – all in-patient services in public wards in public hospitals, including public consultant services;
- Hospital visits – All out-patient services in public hospitals, including public consultant services;
- Medical and midwifery care for mothers, including health care related to pregnancy and the care of the child for six weeks after birth;
- Some personal and social care services, for example, public health nursing, social work services and other community care services based on client need.
You may also be entitled to:
- an exemption from the health portion of your social insurance (PRSI);
- Free transport to school for children who live three miles or more from the nearest school;
- Exemption from state examination fees in public second-level schools;
- Financial help with buying school books.
The GP Card entitles the holder to free healthcare from their GP but does not include hospital visits or prescription charges.
For more information, see the HSE website here.