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Healthcare in Ireland

Health Insurance and the Healthcare System of Ireland Explained

Ireland is one of the few countries where non-residents can arrive and immediately start using the public healthcare system without needing to sign-up. This is especially true for expats intent on making the country their home, because all you need to do is show your visa stamp, which indicates how long you plan to stay.

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Are you wondering what health insurance and the healthcare system is like in Ireland? As with many other European countries, Ireland has a universal healthcare system, but health services are only truly free for about 30% of the population: Medical Card holders. In order to get a Medical Card, you must meet certain “needs” criteria. If you do not, you will pay for medical services and medication, but at nominal fees.

Those who do not qualify for a Medical Card may want to look into private health insurance to subsidize costs. This is an especially popular choice in Ireland and nearly 40% of the population has some form of private coverage (the highest percentage in Europe).

Want to know more? Use this guide as an overview of Ireland’s healthcare system. It covers topics such as the difference between public and private insurance, as well as tips on finding a doctor and giving birth in the Emerald Isle.

How Healthcare Works in Ireland

Whether you are an EU/EEA citizen or not, every resident in Ireland is entitled to use of the healthcare system. Unlike other countries, you do not need to start paying into the Irish tax system or social insurance in order to use the healthcare system. Instead, the main thing you need to do is prove you are “ordinarily resident,” which is the Irish government’s term to establish that you intend to stay in the country for at least a year.

To prove yourself ordinarily resident immediately upon your arrival to Ireland, you will need to submit any of the following documents to the Health Service Executive (HSE):

  • work permit/visa;
  • employer statement;
  • employment contract;
  • evidence of transferring money to an Irish bank account;
  • housing lease or Deed of Sale;
  • Resident permit (formerly known as the GNIB Card).

Keep in mind that the more you submit, the better.

For Citizens of the EU, EEA, and Switzerland

Residents of the EU, EEA, and Switzerland can access the Irish public scheme just by using their European Health Insurance Card (EHIC). If using this card, you will still need to sign up through the HSE to take advantage of all the benefits of public healthcare. 

Ireland Healthcare Facts

  • Nearly 40% of the Irish resident population signs up for private health insurance, which is one of the highest percentages throughout Europe.
  • Although historically known as a country that banned abortions, the procedure is legal up to 12 weeks of pregnancy and requires a three-day waiting period.
  • Contraception methods such as the pill, IUDs, and the ‘morning after’ pill are not free, which is a subject of constant debate in the country.
  • Ireland typically ranks in the top 15th percentile of the global rankings of healthcare systems.
  • Children under six years old and people over 70 are entitled to free general practitioner visits.
  • Children receive free booster shots.

Does Ireland have Free Public Healthcare?

Ireland’s health services are only free for Medical Card holders, who do not need to pay to see a doctor, nor for prescribed medicines. The Medical Card also covers public in- and out-patient services, as well as eye, ear, and dental checks.

Who Can Apply for a Medical Card?

Anyone living as a resident of Ireland is entitled to the Medical Card given that they meet certain criteria. Namely, Medical Cards are given to low income earners or those who require government assistance due to illness, disability, or family situation. Eligibility is determined on a case-by-case basis.

To see if you are eligible, you will need to submit the following information to the HSE:

  • proof of income;
  • your expenses (this could be in the form of a bank statement and/or bills);
  • marital status;
  • number of dependents.

How does Healthcare Work in Ireland?

Healthcare in Ireland is split into two basic levels: those who qualify for the Medical Card and those who do not. If you do not qualify for one, you will need to pay for health services. As the public healthcare system is supported by taxes, these costs are heavily subsidized and therefore you will not have to pay exorbitantly high costs.

The Pros and Cons of Ireland’s Healthcare System

There are equal pros and cons to Ireland’s healthcare system. The public healthcare is understandably more affordable than opting for private insurance. Likewise, the public scheme automatically covers every resident in Ireland regardless of their income, nationality, or pre-existing conditions. Keep in mind that, as stated before, the public healthcare system is only truly free for less than half of Ireland’s population.

There are both public and private hospitals available in Ireland. The care received at both is of high quality, but many Irish residents prefer private care because of the shorter wait times. The public system is often criticized for being overcrowded and overbooked, even when it comes to urgent procedures.

What does the Public Healthcare Cover?

Public healthcare in Ireland covers a wide range of services from general practitioner visits to emergency services, maternity care, overnight hospital stays, and more. If using only the public healthcare, there are certain payment caps set to prevent residents from falling into debt due to medical costs.

Ireland Healthcare Costs

If you are wondering why Ireland’s healthcare is so expensive, it only is if you choose to use a private hospital or do not utilize the public health scheme. On the whole, even if you are not a Medical Card holder, if you decide to use the public health system you may still access certain services free of charge, or at a low rate. For example, with a general practitioner referral, emergency room visits are free. Without a referral, the standard fee for the visit is 100 EUR (110 USD).

Other Healthcare Costs
Item EUR USD
Overnight hospital stay 80 90
Approx. monthly cap on prescription drugs* 140 160
Single doctor’s visit 50 55

*Anything over this amount is covered.

In addition to the Medical Card, Ireland also offers a Long-Term Illness Scheme, which provides access to free medical procedures and medicines for the individual’s specific illness. You can apply for this scheme through one of the HSE’s local health offices.

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An Overview of Private Health Insurance

If you want to know how private health insurance in Ireland works, you are not alone. Nearly 40% of Irish residents use private insurance, which is one of the highest percentages among European countries.

All residents in Ireland are registered for the public healthcare system simply by being a residing in the country. As stated in the previous section, even expats who have only been in the country for one day are able to make use of the public healthcare scheme as long as they can prove their intent to live in Ireland for at least one year. Even if you opt to take out private insurance, you will still have access to certain public healthcare services.

Why Use Private Health Insurance?

When comparing public healthcare and private health insurance in Ireland, the difference comes down to cost and time. Although the public healthcare system is of extremely high quality, many users complain about long wait times, even in emergency situations. On the other hand, private hospitals have shorter wait times, but, without private insurance, the costs will be very high. Therefore, by buying into a private healthcare scheme, Irish residents can make use of private healthcare facilities and cut down on wait times, all at more reasonable costs.

Keep reading if you want to know how to get private health insurance in Ireland, or if you want to know how much it may cost. Expats moving to Ireland for work should note that companies are likely to either pay for their full or partial private healthcare insurance costs.

High-Tech Hospitals 

When you start looking into private medical insurance in Ireland, you may start to notice the inclusion of “high-tech” hospitals. These hospitals are similar to private ones, in that they are not included within the public healthcare scheme. They are different from private hospitals because they contain more advanced, specialized equipment, and are particularly renowned for their treatment of complex, high-risk conditions such as cardia, cancer, and orthopedic.

Do You Need Health Insurance in Ireland?

Because Ireland’s universal public healthcare scheme covers every resident, even foreign ones, it is not mandatory to enroll in private insurance. Irish residents typically only have private insurance for one of the following reasons:

  • their company provides it;
  • they want to avoid lengthy wait times;
  • they prefer private care over public;
  • they are not a Medical Card holder and want to subsidize some of the costs that public healthcare does not cover.

Types of Health Insurance Plans

There are only four private health insurance companies in Ireland, so you should not feel too overwhelmed when deciding on the best one for you. All four are regulated by the Health Insurance Authority (HIA). The HIA even provides a handy comparison tool, where you can compare the different healthcare plans within each private provider.

Below is a look at the four private healthcare providers in Ireland. The average yearly cost of a private health insurance plan is just under 2,000 EUR (2,170 USD).

HSF Health Plan

HSF stands for The Hospital Saturday Fund, which is a charity organization that provides gifts and donations to health institutes across Ireland and the UK. They offer healthcare plans for individuals, families, and corporate. Prices will range anywhere from 16 to 70 EUR per month (17 to 80 USD). 

Irish Life Health

Plans with this health insurance provider start at around 11 EUR (12 USD) per week and can go up to nearly 100 EUR per month (110 USD). Depending on the plan you choose, this healthcare provider will even cover private or semi-private rooms in high-tech hospitals, which are in a different category than public and private hospitals.

Laya Healthcare

This company has many different plans for residents to choose from, allowing options to fit nearly every budget. Some plans even include coverage for overseas use. Cost for healthcare plans start as low as 40 EUR per month and can exceed 120 EUR (45 to 130 USD).

VHi Healthcare

This provider offers both local private health insurance options as well as travel and expatriate insurance, should you decide to leave Ireland and continue your expat adventure elsewhere. You can customize your healthcare coverage to some extent, perfectly tailoring a plan to yours and your family’s needs. Plans start at around 40 EUR per month and can easily go above 100 (45 to 120 USD).

Cash Plans

Cash Plans are a type of health insurance plan you will see mentioned in some of the four private healthcare providers. These plans offer less coverage than most private health insurance plans, but they are more cost efficient. If you choose a cash plan, you will be allowed to claim back a certain amount of the money that you pay for medical services. This amount cannot have gone towards your hospital bill (for example, it can pay for outpatient fees). Cash plans are often put towards dental and optical care costs.

What is Private Health Insurance Coverage Like?

Like Ireland’s public healthcare system, its private counterpart covers a wide variety of ailments, procedures, and medical needs. Depending on your health, family situation, and budget, you should have no problem finding a private healthcare plan that covers everything that you need.

How to Find a Doctor or Dentist

Knowing how to find a doctor or dentist may not be terribly high on your relocation checklist, but it should be. When people need to see a doctor in Ireland, they will generally need to start with a general practitioner (GP).

How to Find a Family Doctor

A family doctor in Ireland is typically a GP. Finding one will depend slightly on the type of health insurance you choose to have while living in Ireland. Some GPs operate only within the public healthcare scheme, while others treat on private healthcare patients. On average, only those with a Medical Card will avoid paying any fees to see a GP. All other residents—both public and private health insurance users—will need to pay some sort of fee.

The standard visiting fee of a GP in Ireland ranges between 40—60 EUR (43—65 USD).

Before you visit a GP, you should check whether they will accept your health insurance scheme or not. You can do this through the Irish Health Service Executive’s online GP Service Finder tool.

GP office hours are fairly standard throughout the country. They will typically operate from 09:00—11:30 and 14:00—17:00. Whether you need to make an appointment or can simply walk in will vary from GP to GP.

If needed, it is possible to arrange home visits with some GPs.

How to Find a Specialist

in Ireland, specialist doctors are often called “consultants”. You need to be referred to a consultant by a GP. For Medical Card holders this is particularly important because your coverage will not include your consultant fee unless a GP refers you.

You may not see a consultant for the very first time without first receiving a referral from a GP. This goes for both Medical Card holders and people using the general public or private health insurance. If using public insurance, you will not be able to choose your consultant.

How to Find a Dentist

Finding a dentist in Ireland is similar to finding a GP: it is often best to search online. The country has an Irish Dental Association, which includes an extensive list of dentists located throughout the country. When searching, you can look to see who is covered under the public health insurance scheme. Note that just because a dentist is within the public sector, does not necessarily mean they will provide services for free.

There are also dentists within the private sector, and some private health insurance plans will cover dental cleanings and various procedures.

Average Wait Time to See a Doctor in Ireland

Your wait time to see a doctor in Ireland will vary dependent on whether you have public or private insurance. If using public insurance, patients can easily wait weeks to see a GP. Even in an emergency case, you may still wait several hours. Private insurance will greatly reduce this wait time, but be prepared to still have your name put on a waiting list.

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Giving Birth in Ireland

Giving birth in a foreign country is always nerve-wracking as a non-resident, even in a country with such topnotch healthcare as Ireland. Luckily, expectant mothers can rest assured that they and their baby will be well cared for pre-natal, post-natal, and during the delivery itself.

Having a Baby in Ireland as a Foreigner

If you are having a baby in Ireland as a foreigner, you will be given the same level of treatment as an Irish national. The only thing that will differ is if you are part of the public health insurance scheme or not, and that difference will only be in the cost involved. As mentioned previously, expats can benefit from the Irish public health system immediately upon arrival in Ireland, as long as they can prove their intent to reside in the country for at least a year.

As a foreigner, you should be sure to bring the following items with you to the hospital on the day you deliver your baby:

  • passports of both parents;
  • Irish visas of both parents;
  • Health insurance information;
  • maternity records.

The Cost of Having a Baby in Ireland

Even if you are giving birth in Ireland without health insurance, the costs for delivery are not as exorbitant as they are in other European countries such as the UK, France, or Germany. For a foreigner who is unable to establish their intent to live in Ireland, and therefore not qualify for public healthcare, the cost of having a baby can be anywhere between 3,000 to 7,000 EUR (3,200 to 7,500 USD). This includes pre-natal visits and ultrasounds.

When comparing birthing options, these are the general costs of hospital deliveries, home births, and C-sections:

EUR USD
Hospital Delivery 3—5,000 3,200—5,400
Home Delivery (with Midwife) 2,500 2,700
C-section 4—6,000 4,300—6,500

If you have public or private health insurance in Ireland, your costs for having a baby in Ireland should be fully covered. Non-Medical Card holders may be subject to small visitation fees.

Benefits of Giving Birth in Ireland

One benefit to giving birth in Ireland is the maternity and parental leave expectant parents can receive. You can read more about this in the Maternity and Paternity Leave portion of our Working in Ireland section.

Once it is confirmed by a doctor that you are pregnant, you are allowed to take time off from work to go to doctor’s appointments. These are called “antenatal visits” and there is no set limit to the number of visits you are allowed to take. You cannot be docked pay for these visits.

Giving Birth in Ireland for Citizenship

As of 2005, a child born in Ireland will only be granted citizenship if at least one of the parents is British or Irish. The child may also be granted citizenship if at least one of the parents can prove familial heritage to Ireland.

If neither parent is Irish nor British, and no family link can be proven, then the baby will assume the same residency status as that of the parents. If you are giving birth in Ireland as a permanent resident, then your baby will also be made a permanent resident. However, this process is not automatic. You will have to register your child’s birth and their residency within three months of them being born.

Registering the Birth

To register the birth, one or both parents must visit a General Register Office. They will need to bring the following documents:

  • photo ID (either a passport or driving license);
  • PPS number;
  • Birth Notification Form (to be issued by the hospital or midwife).

If the parents are unable to visit the registration office in person, any of the following people can register the birth on their behalf:

  • hospital staff member;
  • a person who was present at the birth;
  • an appointed guardian of the child;
  • a person who is the court-ordered parent of the child.

Although Ireland is a fairly conservative and patriarchal country, it is possible for both parents to be registered on a birth certificate even if they are unmarried. A child can also legally take the mother’s name, even in the case of the parents being married, or can have a hyphenated version of the parents’ surnames.

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Updated on: March 20, 2020
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