Medical cards and moving to Ireland from Britain

If you are on a state pension in the UK, you should be eligible for free healthcare here

Irish pensioners over the age of 70 are automatically entitled to a GP visit card.

Irish pensioners over the age of 70 are automatically entitled to a GP visit card.

 

We will be moving shortly from the UK to the west of Ireland. My husband is in receipt of a UK pension (and over 70 years of age) – and we still can’t figure out if a medical card for him will be means tested or not. Can you clarify it for us?

We want to make sure we have got all the relevant paperwork/forms etc ready as he will need to register with a GP right away.

He receives a small UK state-pension and an attendance allowance (which he can hopefully export).

Ms A.B., email

Travelling across borders can be tricky, especially when it comes to things like state payments and coverage for expenses. The departure of the United Kingdom from the European Union has only increased the uncertainty for many people.

However, despite all the sharp words, there is a fair body of cross-border co-operation on things such as social insurance, welfare benefits and the like between Britain and Ireland, some of it predating the EU altogether.

And so it is with medical cards. If you were working over here, you would be assessed for a medical card on the basis of your income and means. This is true also for Irish pensioners.

Over the age of 70, they are automatically entitled to a GP visit card. As you’d guess from the name, that covers the cost of visits to your family doctor. The HSE says it also covers blood tests to diagnose or monitor a condition. However, it does not cover prescription charges (which are capped over here at €114 a month) or visits to a consultant.

Means test

While it sounds as though your husband would qualify for a medical card on the means test, given his small state pension and limited other assets, the good news for you is that, as a “qualifying pensioner” in the UK, the British government will pick up the cost of your medical care here, just as it would under the NHS back in England. You don’t need to worry about the means test.

And while people from other EU and European Economic Area countries do have certain forms they need to complete before qualifying for the card, according to the national assessment guidelines for medical cards and GP visit cards issued by the Irish Health Service Executive (HSE), people from the UK in receipt of a UK social security pension do not need to fill out such forms.

However, those same guidelines say, you will need a recent letter from the UK’s department for works and pensions detailing how much they pay you and how often this is paid. And that appears to be the sum total of what he will require in terms of paperwork.

His dependants are also entitled to an Irish medical card as long as they are not subject to the Irish social security (PRSI) system.

Exporting benefit

On the basis that your husband is a British or Irish citizen, moving over here permanently and in receipt of the UK state pension, the British government website says that he can carry on receiving the attendance allowance once he relocates.

He needs to write to the quaintly named “Exportability Team”. There are different teams for difference payments. For attendance allowance, he should write to : Attendance Allowance Exportability Team, Mail Handling Site A, Wolverhampton, WV98 2AD, United Kingdom.

He will need to give details of the benefit he wants to claim, where he is living (I presume both new and following his relocation to Ireland) as well as details of any change in the bank account to which the payment is being made.

Similarly, with the UK state pension, that can be paid into your UK account or into a new Irish account once you set one up. You will need to contact the UK department for work and pensions’ international pension centre to do so.

According to the UK government website, any changes to your address or destination bank account for any payment must be made either by letter or by phone but not by email. In relation to the state pension, the relevant number is +44 (0) 191 218 7777 and the address is: The Pension Service 11, Mail Handling Site A, Wolverhampton, WV98 1LW, United Kingdom.

Word of caution

One final word of caution. Having the right to a medical card is one thing, actually getting on to a GP’s list is another. Many practices, especially down the country, are oversubscribed.

As a medical card holder, your husband will be allocated to a practice by the State if he cannot find one prepared to accommodate him by himself. However, it would make sense to sound out practices even ahead of his move – given that his medical situation means he cannot really afford a gap in coverage and access to doctors – to try to make sure you can source one convenient to where you will be living.

Please send your queries to Dominic Coyle, Q&A, The Irish Times, 24-28 Tara Street, Dublin 2, or email dcoyle@irishtimes.com. This column is a reader service and is not intended to replace professional advice. No personal correspondence will be entered into

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