Free taxpayer health benefits have been around for a while, improving and then decreasing again, in line with the overall financial health of the economy.
Remember the outcry when dental benefits were cut in the years of austerity following the financial crisis? They are still not fully restored, but in general in recent years it has been to improve benefits for taxpayers, with a number of new initiatives recently announced by the government.
So here’s a quick recap of existing perks and new initiatives that could help you save money this year.
Remember that all expenses beyond those described below – and provided they are not covered by a private insurance policy – may qualify for a tax refund of 20% of the cost.
Free medical care
Since 2015, all children under the age of six – more than 400,000 of them – have been entitled to free visits to a general practitioner. You just need a PPS number to qualify.
From now on, these children should benefit from two additional years of free medical care, because the program has just been extended to children aged six and seven. Not only that, but next year it is set to be extended to children aged eight and nine, while in 2024 those aged 10, 11 and 12 are also set to benefit.
Health Minister Stephen Donnelly recently said he wanted the extension to children aged six and seven to be rolled out “as soon as possible”, but there is no start date yet for the program.
At the other end of the age spectrum, anyone over 70 is also entitled to a free GP card, although a medical card is only available to those who pass a means test (income of 550 € per week for a single person and €1,050 for a couple).
Infamous women once traveled by train to Belfast to buy contraceptives to protest against laws banning their sale in Ireland, but soon contraception, as well as being widely available, will also be free in Ireland.
The initiative will mean that women between the ages of 17 and 25 will be entitled to free contraception “as a first step towards providing free contraception to all”, Mr Donnelly said.
The scheme will be implemented by GPs and Well Women centers and is due to start in August, although the Irish medical organization recently said negotiations on the matter are still in the “very early stages”.
It is understood that the scheme will cover most things related to contraception, including the cost of two GP visits per year, the cost of contraception and the cost of fitting and/or removal of various types long-acting reversible contraception. The plan should cover most types of birth control, including injections, implants, IUD, patch and ring, and various forms of oral contraceptive pills.
A woman on the pill, for example, can usually expect to spend upwards of €200 a year on repeat prescriptions, plus visits to a GP.
The program is expected to cost the public treasury between 20 and 25 million euros per year.
One of the biggest worries for many parents is the cost of dental care in Ireland for children; yes, the Health Service Executive offers free services, but its supply is so intermittent and difficult to obtain that it does not offer help to many.
However, the service has been expanded – but not yet for children.
Dental care is one of the offers available under the Treatment Benefit Scheme, which means it is linked to PRSI contributions. So if you don’t pay PRSI – or haven’t paid enough – you probably won’t qualify.
More recently, the Department of Social Welfare announced that people between the ages of 25 and 28 can start receiving dental benefits provided they have worked for nine months. The move is expected to benefit around 80,000 people. Previously, this cohort had to be in employment for five years (or make 260 PRSI contributions), so this is a significant improvement.
If you are between 21 and 25 years old, you may be eligible if you have made at least 39 contributions.
But what will the newly qualified cohort get? Once you qualify for the program, you will receive a free annual check-up plus €42 for scaling or polishing or, if clinically necessary, periodontal treatment once a year. This means you shouldn’t pay more than $15 for a balance or polish, as the cost for this has been capped.
However, you can opt to use it for a deep cleaning with your hygienist instead, as a typical hygiene visit will cost around €70, a check-up and teeth cleaning once a year will cost you around €28 .
If you are self-employed, you have been entitled to these treatment benefits since 2017.
Since March 1, the drug payment plan cap has been reduced by 20%, from €100 to €80. The latest cut means the plan has been reduced by 44% from €144 in 2018. This means someone with a repeat prescription over €144 saves €64 per month, or €768 per year, that’s therefore a significant saving.
In addition to proof of identity, you just need your PPS number – and those of all relevant family members – to benefit from the program.
Eyes, ears and hair
Once you qualify for the treatment benefit program, you will also be eligible for a free eye test, which usually costs around €30, every two years. You will be entitled to a subsidy for the purchase of glasses or contact lenses.
This means you can choose your own glasses and get a $42 payment from the department for the cost of them, or choose basic glasses, which include a pair of reading and distance glasses, a pair of bifocal or varifocal or a pair of contact lenses (including disposable).
If you need contact lenses for medical reasons, you could be eligible for a payment of up to €500, provided your doctor recommends it.
For hearing, a grant of up to €500 is available per hearing aid (with up to two eligible devices) every four years, while a repair grant of up to €100 per year, is also available.
With hearing aids generally starting around £500, depending on your choice or need, you may find that the scheme will cover the cost of your hearing aid.
Another recent program enhancement is the introduction of a new grant of up to €500 to cover the cost of a hairpiece, wig or hair replacement. It has been available since last month.
Eligibility for the scheme is limited to those whose hair loss is due to disease or treatment for disease, such as cancer or alopecia, including the following types: alopecia areata; primary cicatricial alopecia; frontal fibrosing alopecia and lichen planopilaris; chemotherapy-induced alopecia; alopecia resulting from surgery or trauma, including burns.
The average price of a wig in Ireland is around €350-500, according to the Irish Cancer Society, with the cost rising to €600-1,000 for human hair.
Bear in mind that you have the right to use your treatment benefits in another Member State of the European Union. This means that if you decide to have an eye exam in France or buy a wig in Germany, you will get the same contribution towards this cost.
And if the cost of treatment is found to be cheaper overseas, you may end up with no excess, as you will with many treatments in Ireland.
You can see the full amounts to be repaid here.
On my way
Free hospitalization costs
That hasn’t happened yet, but it’s expected that from next year inpatient and outpatient fees at public hospitals will be waived, meaning that regular visitors to the hospital should save significant sums.
Currently, you have to pay €80 for each night spent in a public hospital, unless you have a medical card or private health insurance. This amount is capped at €800 per year.
Initially, hospitalization costs for children under 16, again levied at €80 per night, will be abolished this summer.
The move is unlikely, however, to be extended to A&E and the €100 per visit fee is likely to stand.