Minister for Health, Stephen Donnelly recently announced the opening of applications for GP visit cards for up to 215,000 people who are newly eligible. This is the first of two phases which will provide free GP care to an estimated 430,000 people in Ireland on a means tested basis. It is part of the biggest expansion in eligibility for free GP care in the history of the state happening this year and covering up to 500,000 people.
Announcing the opening of applications, Minister for Health, Stephen Donnelly said “I am delighted to confirm that the first of two expansions of the GP Visit Card scheme to people earning up to the median income is now live. This expansion of the GP Visit Card scheme is a significant milestone and will bring free GP care to approximately 215,000 people. Many people aged between 8 and 69 who currently see their GP care on a private basis may now be eligible for a means tested GP visit card. A simplified online application process is available from today on the HSE website. This expansion of the GP Visit Card scheme will help people to manage the cost of living challenges we face, and I encourage those who may be eligible to apply now.”
The expansion of free GP care to close to 500,000 people this year is supported by the landmark agreement between the Department of Health, the HSE, and the Irish Medical Organisation (IMO) signed in early July 2023 which put in place a series of financial supports for GPs. On 8 August 2023, free GP care was expanded to 78,000 children aged 6 and 7. From today, free GP care is expanded to 215,000 people aged between 8 and 69 on a means tested basis. From 13 November 2023, it will be expanded to 215,000 more people on a means tested basis.
People aged up to 69 and parents of children aged 8 and up can apply for a means tested GP visit card on the HSE website. The means test assessment considers a persons or family’s circumstances, income and expenses. As well as assessing various kinds of income, a means test assessment considers personal situation, including dependent children and living situation, plus expenses such as rent or mortgage and childcare costs.
Expanding GP care without charges to up to 430,000 people on a means tested basis is a large and challenging project. Its introduction has been phased to avoid logjams in the application and assessment process. The HSE have developed a simplified online application process for means tested GP visit cards which is now available on www.hse.ie/GPVisitCards.
Minister Donnelly said “We are making significant steps forward in making healthcare affordable for all. We abolished inpatient charges, first for children and then for everyone. We brought the maximum amount payable under the Drug Payment Scheme down to €80 per month. In January, we expanded the Free Contraception scheme to include 26 year olds and on 1 September we expanded it again so that now all 17 to 30 year olds are covered. In August, we expanded free GP care to all children aged 6 and 7 so that now all children under 8 are covered.
“We are increasing GP training places by over a third, so that we will have 350 places annually by 2024. We secured a landmark agreement with the Irish Medical Organisation which supports GPs to recruit and retain more staff. We are supporting the Irish College of General Practitioners successful non-EU GP Training Scheme which is bringing qualified doctors into front line care in Ireland now.
“I am delighted that we will be implementing this expansion with the agreement of the IMO. We collaborated successfully with general practice through the period of the Covid pandemic, when GPs displayed an extraordinary commitment to delivering patient care. I look forward to continuing our collaboration as we embark on this historic expansion of free GP care.
“The expansion of the GP Visit Card scheme in 2023 is a significant milestone as we bring free GP care to close to 500,000 people this year. I am committed to ensuring affordable access for people in Ireland who are facing the toughest economic challenges. Removing the cost barrier to visiting their GP gives them better access to health care and supports their health and wellbeing.”