The Government has abolished in-patient charges for children under 16 in all public hospitals
Announcing the measure, Health Minister Stephen Donnelly said “This significant change to healthcare provision in Ireland is focused towards easing the financial burden of parents or guardians when bringing their child to hospital for in-patient care.
“In the context of current cost-of-living challenges this is another important commitment by Government towards affordability, as it will make our public hospitals free for children when they require access to treatment as a public patient.”
Previously, hospital charges for children were set at €80 per night, up to a maximum of €800 a year – the same rates currently charged to adults.
The removal of the fee for under-16s builds on the introduction of free contraception for women aged 17-25 launched earlier this month. It has been reported that the Department of Health has been pushing for the abolishment of hospital charges for adults as part of Budget 2023, but no decision has yet been made on such a move. Medical card holders are already exempt from the charges.
The measure comes as a new study has found that people with more than one chronic health condition face a higher financial burden.
Researchers at Trinity College Dublin, along with colleagues in RCSI University of Medicine and Health Sciences and the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) found that people with two chronic conditions had an average annual healthcare expenditure of €806.80, and people with three or more conditions spent an average of €885.80. This compared to €580.30 for people with no chronic conditions.
Medications accounted for half of the money people with two or more conditions spent on their health. People with multiple chronic conditions also tended to have lower incomes, with almost one in ten people with three or more conditions spendings more than 20 per cent of their income on healthcare.
The study, recently published in the journal BMJ Open, used data from the Irish Longitudinal Study on Ageing (TILDA) from 2016 to investigate the healthcare expenditure of a nationally representative sample of 5,899 adults aged 50 years or over. It found that having a medical card reduced healthcare expenditure by approximately half, with little changes made to the medical card entitlements system in recent years.
Lead author of the research and PhD scholar at the RCSI’s Department of General Practice, James Larkin, pointed to an increase in the income threshold for medical card eligibility and greater uptake of the card as a way to ease the financial burden on patients with multiple chronic conditions. “We know from previous Irish research that 31 per cent of those entitled to a medical card are not availing of it. So, to reduce financial burden, barriers to medical card uptake should be addressed. These barriers include lack of awareness of entitlement, potential stigma, and large administrative burdens.”
Senior author and Professor of General Practice at Trinity College Dublin Susan Smith described the results as concerning, adding: “Inflation is leading to higher energy bills and fuel costs, meaning that the capacity for people with multiple health conditions to pay for their healthcare is shrinking even further.”