Children in Ireland are dependants of their parents and have the same entitlement to health services as their parents. This means that if your parents have a medical card, you are included as a dependant on that card and are entitled to the same range of services as your parents.
At the same time, there is a range of support services for children and certain services are provided free of charge for children even if their parents do not have a medical card. These services are generally provided as part of maternity and infant welfare services, health services for preschool children and school health services. Children are also entitled to vaccination and immunisation services free of charge.
Children may be treated in public or private hospitals on the same basis as adults. There are a number of specialist children’s hospitals. Entitlement to hospital services is the same in these hospitals as in public and voluntary hospitals generally. These hospitals provide in-patient services, out-patient services, day care, accident and emergency services and specialist services for children.
If children are admitted to hospital for treatment of defects discovered at child and school health examinations, they do not have to pay the usual in-patient public hospital charges.
There is no one age at which a child ceases to be a child for the purposes of health services but 16 is the more usual cut-off point.
Medical cards and young people over 16
If you are over 16 years of age and are a student or are financially dependent on your parents, you are entitled to medical card services if they possess a medical card. This means that you will be included on their medical card if you live at home and you will get your own card if you live away from home. In the medical card means test, there is an allowance for children aged over 16. This allowance is doubled if the child is in third-level education and is not getting a grant. This arrangement applies to young people up to the age of 25.
Recipients of Disability Allowance
People who are receiving the Disability Allowance get a medical card in their own right. Young people may qualify for this allowance from the age of 16.
Children who are fostered all have individual medical cards. This is the case regardless of the entitlements of their foster parents.
Prescribed drugs and medicines
Children may be regarded as dependants up to age 18 (or 23 if in full-time education) for the purposes of the prescribed drugs and medicines maximum family spending.
Children of any age who are mentally or physically disabled to such an extent that it is not reasonably possible for them to maintain themselves fully and who are living at home may also be regarded as dependants for the prescribed drugs and medicines arrangements.
Private health insurance
Children may be charged reduced premiums on their parents’ private health insurance arrangements up to age 18 (or 21 if in full time education).
Consent to medical treatment
In general, children over the age of 16 may themselves give consent to surgical procedures. It is the practice to get parental consent to medical procedures for children under that age even though it is not entirely clear that parents have the ultimate decision. In a recent court case, the Supreme Court ruled that only in exceptional circumstances would the court intervene to make an order that was contrary to the decision of parents regarding procedures for their children.