Is Healthcare Free in Ireland?

The cost of healthcare is a concern for everyone in Ireland, more so than other European countries. Ireland is the only Western European country without universal coverage for primary care.

Ireland offers a public health service supplemented by the Irish private healthcare industry. For access to the public service, all residents of Ireland pay for the public system through taxation as well as through voluntary health care payments.

While an Irish hospital will never turn you away for being unable to pay, Irish healthcare is rarely free, unless you meet the strict requirements set by the Medical Card or GP Visit Card programs.

You could spend upwards of €60 for a ten minute GP visit and some antibiotics. Here’s what you need to know about the cost of healthcare in Ireland.

Who gets free healthcare in Ireland?

If you live in Ireland for more than one year, you enjoy access to the Irish public health system, managed by the Health Service Executive (HSE). The Irish public health system means that everyone in Ireland gets the primary healthcare treatment they need, regardless of their ability to pay.

The public health option is completely free but only for qualifying groups of people with Medical Cards.

A Medical Card grants you access to out-patient and in-patient services as well as eye, ear, and dental checks for free at the point of access. There are strict income rules to qualify for a Medical Card. According to the HSE, only around 30% of people have Ireland have Medical Cards.

If you don’t qualify for a Medical Card, you may otherwise qualify for a GP Visit Card, which covers the cost of a GP appointment for the over 70s and under 6s.

How much does Irish healthcare cost without a Medical Card?

If you don’t qualify for free healthcare programs, you’ll pay €40-€60 for a GP appointment or €100 to visit A&E (unless referred by a GP or admitted overnight). If you become ill and require treatment in a hospital, you’ll also pay in-patient charges, which are €80 per night with a maximum of €800 for 10 visits or more in a 12-month period.

Additional charges include:

  • Medications (up to €144 per month)
  • Parking
  • Accommodation
  • Medical devices and equipment

In addition to paying these charges, public health patients must contend with waiting lists for out-patient hospital consultations and in-patient procedures. In 2021, the number of people on hospital waiting lists grew to nearly 863,000, in part due to the impact of COVID-19.

Do you need health insurance in Ireland?

About half of people in Ireland choose to purchase health insurance in Ireland as a way of by-passing the public healthcare option, controlling costs, and avoiding waiting lists. In 2019, the Health Insurance Authority reported the average annual cost of Irish health insurance was €2,059.

Health insurance grants you access to Ireland’s network of private hospitals, which can make it easier to access elective care, specialists, and wellness programs. Private insurance providers offer over 300 plans and also give you the option to create your own plan, tailored to your health and needs.

Is private health insurance the right call for your family? With only a few details, you can get a quote in 30 seconds.