Healthcare in Ireland involves both the public and private sectors, meaning that a two-tier system exists. Whether you are a newcomer to Ireland or a returning citizen, it is crucial to understand how the healthcare system functions and how you and your family, if applicable, can access care as and when it is required.
Public healthcare in Ireland is provided by the Health Service Executive (HSE). While many healthcare services are publicly funded or subsidised , some people opt to purchase private insurance due to certain public health waiting lists that can take several months to clear. Moreover, unlike many European countries where healthcare systems are fully publicly funded, in Ireland you may still be required to pay certain fees within the public system, such as hospital charges and GP consultation fees.
There is no doubt that the reason that many people in Ireland opt for private health insurance is because of extended waiting times for certain treatments, as well as the fact that some charges still apply even under the public system. The public/private healthcare debate is a perennial political hot-topic in Ireland, especially at election time, and despite the introduction of certain legislative policies aimed at increasing access to free public healthcare (free GP care for children under the age of six), the reality is that many individuals and families continue to take out private health insurance policies. Around 45% of the Irish population has private health insurance, a figure that is more than four times higher than in the UK.
As a newcomer to Ireland or returning citizen, you may be worried that you will not have the financial means to purchase private health insurance when you arrive in Ireland. Depending on your residency status and level of income, however, you may qualify for a medical card provided by the HSE. What you need to remember is that there are numerous ways of accessing healthcare in Ireland.
What is a Medical Card?
A medical card allows its bearer to access a wide range of medical services free of charge, thereby making healthcare in Ireland more accessible. Eligibility depends on your status as a resident, as well as your financial means. To determine your status as a resident, you may be asked to show proof of residence. You can do so by showing your permit (if applicable), evidence of paying rent or owning property, and a record of your bank account in Ireland.
In terms of income thresholds, a number of factors come into play; a detailed breakdown of your entitlements can be found here. Factors including income, savings, property and investment will also be assessed to determine whether you and your partner and children, if applicable, qualify for a medical card and with it, free or reduced-cost healthcare in Ireland. Childcare costs and rent or mortgage repayments will also be taken into account, but certain social welfare benefits like Child Benefit and Carer’s Allowance will not.
If your income is deemed to be above the cut-off point for a medical card, then you may be entitled to a GP Visit Card or to be given access to the Drugs Payment Scheme. Regardless of your income, the deciding officer, who makes the decision on your medical card application, has the discretion to grant a medical card (and with it, free or reduced-cost access to healthcare in Ireland) if it is deemed that not doing so would cause an undue burden on you and your family.
Health insurance: what you need to know
If you decide that private health insurance is right for you, then you need to consider a few important points.The first thing to know when you take out health insurance for the first time in Ireland is that you may have to serve a waiting period before your coverage kicks in. The maximum waiting period for pre-existing conditions is five years. Once you have served this waiting period, you will not have to repeat it if you switch insurance providers, so long as your coverage does not have a break of longer than 13 weeks.
When the time comes to choose a private health insurance plan that best meets your needs, there are many factors to consider:
- The level of hospital accommodation you desire will influence the cost of your policy. You can choose between semi-private care in a public hospital, a mix of semi-private/private rooms in public and private hospitals, or fully private hospital care.
- You can choose whether or not to include claiming back on GP visit fees, consultant fees, dentist fees, and more.
- Regardless of the health insurance provider you opt for, there is a range of minimum benefits that come as standard. This includes day care or in-patient treatment, hospital out-patient treatment, maternity benefits, convalescence and certain substance abuse treatments.
- Orthopaedic procedures can be added onto your policy, but some plans cap the cover on these at 80 percent of the cost when in a private hospital.
- Health insurance cash plans can help cover your everyday healthcare needs by giving you cash back on health benefits, such as GP visits and dental care. This is a cheaper option than the alternative of a full insurance policy, but you will be capped at a certain expense total, after which you must take the responsibility of payment This should be take into consideration when making your decision.
Ireland’s main voluntary private health insurance providers
Much like buying insurance for your car or home, many options exist when selecting a voluntary health insurance provider in Ireland. You can choose from long-established health insurance providers as well as more recent additions to the market.Before you make a final decision, it is important to have a clear idea of the type of treatment plan you want as well as the amount you are willing to pay.
Five the major players in the Irish health insurance market in Ireland:
- Laya Healthcare
- VHI Healthcare
- HSF Health Plan
- Irish Life Health
Each of these providers has a range of options to choose from, with more inclusive coverage costing more than basic plans. However, as a golden rule, it is crucial that you shop around and find the plan that’s right for you. To help you do that, you should consult with the Health Insurance Authority.
The Health Insurance Authority
The Health Insurance Authority (HIA) is the independent statutory regulator for private health insurance providers. The HIA makes sure that consumers have as much relevant information as possible before making a decision. In addition, the HIA also makes sure that all material released from the health insurance operators in Ireland is accurate and reflective of the policies being offered. Finally, the HIA also provides useful information on the health insurance options available , and is a useful resource for any person moving or returning to Ireland.
General Practitioners in Ireland
General Practitioners (also known as GPs or family doctors) play a vital role in healthcare in Ireland. They are often the first contact that many people have with the Irish healthcare system, and if you are planning on living in a rural area, they are even more essential as the nearest hospital may be as much as an hour away, if not further. One of the first things you should do after arriving in Ireland is to register with a GP in your local area.
If you have a medical card, then trips to the GP and subsequent prescriptions are free. While if you are in the possession of a GP Visit Card, then the visit is free but you will need to pay for the prescriptions that may follow.
However, if you don’t fall into either of these categories, then you need to be prepared for a fee of somewhere from €45 to €65. However, private health insurance holders may have GP visits fully or partially covered, depending on the premium selected.
Finally, regardless of household income, all people aged over 70 and under 6 are entitled to free GP care visits.