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.
What health services are normally covered?
If you have a medical card, you are entitled to:
- Free GP (family doctor) services
- Prescribed drugs and medicines — some prescription charges apply
- In-patient public hospital services, out-patient services and medical appliances
- Dental, optical and aural services
- Maternity and infant care services
- Some personal and social care services, for example, public health nursing, social work services and other community care services
- A maternity cash grant of €10.16 on the birth of each child
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.
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.
People who are exempt from the means test
- Those with EU entitlement — see ‘Further information’ below
- People affected by the drug Thalidomide
- Women who have had a symphysiotomy
Medical cards are usually granted to children in foster care.
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.
After your card is issued
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.
Returning to work
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 instead you will be entitled to retain a GP Visit Card without a means test when you return to work, rather than retaining a medical card.
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.
How to apply
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:
- MC1 Medical Card and GP Visit Card Application Form (pdf)
- MC1(a) Medical Card and GP Visit Card Application Form – People Aged 70 Years or Older (pdf) if you are aged over 70
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.