If you have a medical card issued by the Health Service Executive (HSE) you can receive certain health services free of charge. Normally, your dependent spouse or partner and your children are also covered for the same range of health services.
To qualify for a medical card, your weekly income must be below a certain figure for your family size. Cash income, savings, investments and property (except for your own home) are taken into account in the means test.
GP Visit Cards: If you do not qualify for a medical card on income grounds, you may qualify for a GP Visit Card.
If you have a medical card, you are entitled to:
Medical card holders pay the Universal Social Charge on their income (except for social welfare and HSE payments), but at a maximum rate of 4%. The only exemption is for people earning less than €10,036 per annum. Medical card holders may also be exempt from paying school transport charges and State exam fees in publicly-funded second-level schools. There may also be financial help with buying school books in certain schools.
It was announced that the income limits for medical cards for people aged over 70 will reduce from €600/€1,200 per week (single person/couple) to €500/ €900 per week. The GP Visit Card will still be available to people aged over 70 with income up to €700/€1,400 per week. These limits are expected to be introduced from 1 January 2014.
Free GP care will be introduced during 2014 for children aged 5 years and under. This will require legislation.
The prescription charge for medical card holders will be increased to €2.50 per item (from €1.50), up to a maximum of €25 per month per person or family (increased from €19.50). The new charges are expected to apply from 1 December 2013.
Unemployed people who return to work will be entitled to retain a GP Visit Card for 3 years without a means test. Currently they can retain their medical card for 3 years. This measure requires legislation and it is to be introduced during 2014.
€10 million is to be saved by the removal of products from the List of Reimbursable Items for the medical card and Drugs Payment Scheme. The HSE will now consider products for review in compliance with the provisions of the Health (Pricing and Supply of Medical Goods) Act 2013.
Normally, your total income is taken into account in the means test for the medical card.
There are different guidelines for the means test depending on your age:
The assessment of a couple for medical card purposes is based on the age of the older person.
If your income is above the limit you may still be able to obtain a medical card if your circumstances would result in hardship without one. See the Assessment Guidelines in Further information below for details.
Medical cards are usually granted to children in foster care.
If you are getting a social welfare payment for a year or more and return to work, you may be able to keep your medical card for up to 3 years. It is planned to change this in 2014 so that you will instead be entitled to retain a GP Visit Card without a means test when you return to work, rather than retaining a medical card.
People aged 16–25, including students, who are financially independent of their parents may be entitled to a medical card if they pass the means test. If they are financially dependent on their parents they are normally only entitled to a medical card if their parents have one. A student getting Disability Allowance will generally be entitled to a medical card.
If your circumstances change you must inform the HSE as you may no longer be eligible. For example, if your income or family circumstances change, you must inform the Client Registration Unit as soon as possible — see 'How to apply' below. Your card will be reviewed periodically.
The HSE will ask you periodically to confirm your circumstances. A review form is sent to you, which you must fill in and return to the Client Registration Unit. If you do not return your review form your application cannot be re-assessed and your card may not be re-issued.
You may continue to use your expired card while a review is taking place, as long as you continue to be involved in the review process. Your eligibility can be confirmed by any doctor or pharmacist or through the GP practice systems, or you can confirm it yourself online at medicalcard.ie.
If you move house
You can use your medical card for up to 3 months if you are living temporarily outside your Local Health Office area. In this case, you can attend any GP in the area participating in the medical card scheme. If you are going to be away longer than 3 months, you should apply to the Local Health Office of that area for a medical card. If you move to a different part of your own Local Health Office area, you can apply to change your doctor.
If you have any questions before you send your application, you can phone Lo-call 1890 252 919, contact your Local Health Office, or email email@example.com.
You can apply online for a medical card on medicalcard.ie. This is the quickest method of obtaining the card. The completed form will be returned to you.
Alternatively, you can download a medical card application form:
You bring the form to the GP you have chosen from the list of participating doctors. Usually, the GP you select must have his/her practice within 7 miles of where you live. If the GP agrees to accept you as a patient for medical card GP services, he/she signs the form.
You return the form to the Client Registration Unit, along with the documentary evidence specified on the form.
You can track the progress of your medical card application at medicalcard.ie.
The HSE has FAQs on medical cards and medical cards/GP Visit Cards for people aged 70 and over.
If you have been refused a medical card and are not satisfied with the decision, you may have it reviewed. Your circumstances may have changed or you may have left out some relevant information from the original application. If you are not satisfied with the review you may make an appeal to the Appeals Office for your HSE Area. The contact details will also be contained in your letter of refusal. The Appeals Office will conduct a reassessment of your application. This will be conducted by HSE staff who were not involved in deciding on your original application.
The HSE has published assessment guidelines for medical card applications:
If you are getting a social security pension from another EU/EEA country or Switzerland, or if you are working and paying social insurance in one of these countries, you may qualify for a medical card under EU rules if you are ordinarily resident in ireland.
You must not be subject to Irish social security legislation. This means that you must not be in receipt of a contributory Irish social welfare payment or be working in Ireland and be liable to pay PRSI.
If you are living in Ireland and you are the dependant of a pensioner entitled under EU Regulations, or are the dependant of a person who is working in another country covered by the Regulations, you may be eligible for a medical card. You must not be subject to Irish social security legislation (in the case of child dependants this rule applies to the spouse or person looking after them).
Posted workers and their dependants may also qualify for the medical card. These are workers who are employed in another country covered by the regulations but are sent by their employers to work in Ireland for a limited time.
See the assessment guidelines for more information about entitlement under EU Regulations.
If you have a question relating to this topic you can contact the Citizens Information Phone Service on 0761 07 4000 (Monday to Friday, 9am to 8pm) or you can visit your local Citizens Information Centre.