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20th Sep 2018

Should the free GP scheme be extended past the age of six?

Melissa Carton

The free GP scheme currently serves children up to age six, but should it be extended?

I’m one of the parents that availed of the free GP scheme for both of my children and I think it’s a great idea. Just out of reach from being eligible for a medical card, the GP card has been a real lifesaver.

Recently my son turned six which means he can no longer avail of the scheme. This means forking out €50 every time we need to visit the doctor. When you’re far from being rich this additional cost can make monthly budgets a tight squeeze.

Originally when it was first introduced there were plans to extend the scheme to age twelve. This would mean that children would be covered throughout their primary school years.

Those plans were unfortunately scrapped. This has meant that a lot of middle-income families have lost out on a big potential money saver.

So why was the extension dropped?

Part of the reason may be that some GPs found themselves swapped with free visits and struggled to keep up with these appointments on top of their regular load.

In 2016 alone, the HSE paid out a staggering €540m to GP practices to cover all visitors with medical cards and GP visit cards.

For middle earning families who have young children with chronic illness, schemes like the free GP visits are essential.

Having asthma myself I worry that it may present itself in one or both of my children. If it does it will mean working in regular doctor visits into our budget.

With it seeming very unlikely that the scheme will be extended to include older children I’ll just have to up my son’s intake of apples to keep the doctor away.