Some 215,000 people are newly eligible for free GP care from today, in the first of two expansions of the GP Visit Card scheme.
The applications for GP visit cards have opened today – the first of two phases which will provide free GP care to an estimated 430,000 people in Ireland.
The programme will operate on a means-tested basis and will be expanded in November to include a further 215,000 people.
All those who earn under €46,000 will be able to avail of the service.
This expansion will increase the qualifying financial threshold for a means-tested GP visit card in two phases;
The weekly income threshold for a single person living alone increased from €304 to €361 in the first phase and will increase to €418 in November.
The weekly income threshold for a single person living with a family increased from €271 to €322 in the first phase and will increase to €373 in November.
The weekly income threshold for a couple without dependent(s), a couple with dependent(s) or a one-parent family, increased from €441 to €524 in the first phase and will increase to €607 in November.
These changes apply to adults and children aged 8 to 69. All children aged under 8 and people aged 70 and over are automatically eligible for a GP visit card.
Minister for Health, Stephen Donnelly said the programme is part of the "significant steps" Government are making to make "healthcare affordable for all".
"I am committed to ensuring affordable access for people in Ireland who are facing the toughest economic challenges," he said.
"Removing the cost barrier to visiting their GP gives them better access to health care and supports their health and wellbeing.”
The service is part of the biggest expansion in eligibility for free GP care in the history of the State and follows the expansion of free GP care to 78,000 children under the age of eight in August.
Last month, Monaghan-based GP Illona Duffy told Newstalk that the Department has underestimated the magnitude of the change they are ushering in.
Dr Duffy described the health service as “already overloaded and well beyond capacity” and without a sufficient number of GPs to cope with the change.
“Before they were introduced there was concern raised that GP practices wouldn’t be able to cope with the extra demand," she said.
"Once the service becomes free, people will understandably use that service more frequently.”