If you are living in Ireland (“ordinarily resident”) you are entitled to a range of public health services that are free of charge or subsidized by the Irish Government. Broadly speaking, if you are living there and intend to continue to live there for at least a year, you will be considered ordinarily resident. Visitors to Ireland may be entitled to free and/or subsidized services in certain circumstances. Entitlement to health services in Ireland is mainly based on residency and means, rather than on payment of tax or pay-related social insurance (PRSI).
There are two categories of public health services in Ireland, one for medical card holders and one for non-medical card holders. Medical card eligibility is based on age, income level, and number of dependents. Medical cardholders are entitled to free GP visits and hospital costs, as well as dental, vision, prenatal and maternity services, and prescriptions. A medical card would normally cover the applicant and his/her dependent spouse and children.
Non-Medical card holders are entitled to all in-patient hospital services in public wards and all out-patient public hospital services subject to an annual maximum charge of a few hundred euro. Accident and emergency departments are covered if you have a referral note from your doctor. If not, they are subject to a charge. Maternity and infant care services such as doctor visits are covered for up to six weeks after birth.
Residents who do not qualify for a medical card may apply for a GP (family doctor) Visit Card. GP Visit Cards allow qualifying individuals and families to visit their family doctor for free. Prescribed drugs associated with your GP visit are not covered. Instead, you can apply to become part of the Drugs Payment Scheme under which an individual or family would pay a maximum of 85 euro per month for approved prescribed drugs, medicines and certain appliances for use by that person or his or her family. Any in-patient public hospital services and out-patient hospital services associated with a medical condition are free but you will have to pay some hospital charges.
All children are entitled to new eyeglasses every two years, free dental work, and free orthodonture if medically necessary. Cosmetic straightening does not qualify. All such visits are arranged through the public health service and the child deals with a health service professional staff member, doctor, dentist, or nurse. Such free services are available to all children in the Republic as long as they are in Primary School (until fourteen years of age). After that age, usually only those children whose parents have medical cards qualify for such free services.
In addition to the public health system, residents of Ireland can avail themselves of a range of private health care services. You must pay the full costs of treatment if you opt for private health care. There are a number of private health insurance companies in Ireland, most notably the Voluntary Health Insurance Board (VHI) and BUPA. As long as you are ordinarily resident in Ireland, you are entitled to the same benefits from your private health insurance with either of these two companies as any other Irish citizen.
Despite the range of free services provided by Ireland’s public health care system, there are certain advantages to paying for these services yourself. Waiting lists can be weeks to months long for some non-critical procedures. The public health care system is remarkable, but despite increased funding in recent years it remains swamped.
Department of Health and Children
+353 1 635 4000
Fax:+353 1 635 4001