Free GP visits for all over-70s from next Wednesday
Around 36,000 people aged over 70 can begin registering today for the scheme which will give them free GP visits.
The scheme which starts next Wednesday will apply to all over-70s, regardless of income, although they must continue to pay for their medication.
Health Minister Leo Varadkar said from August 5 some 400,000 people over 70 would be entitled to see their doctor without paying a fee.
GPs will get an annual capitation fee from the HSE for each of the registered patients, which will cover the visits throughout the year.
The move follows the long-awaited start of free GP visits for children under six in July. Registration can be done online and forms will also be available at pharmacies and local health offices.
John Hennessy, the HSE's head of primary care, said "a simple online registration system" would be available from today at www.gpvisitcard.ie.
"Registration of a person aged 70 or older just requires the person's name, PPS number, gender, date of birth, contact details and the selection of a GP of choice," he said.
"Alternatively, people can download a form from the website www.gpvisitcard.ie, or locall 1890 252 919 to receive a copy by post. The registration form will also be available in pharmacies and local health offices."
The free visits by over-70s have not met with opposition from GPs, although the extension of the scheme will add even more pressure to surgeries during the autumn and winter.
Many doctors have already warned of the extra strain the free visits for under-sixes will put on their over-stretched services, making it more difficult to provide same-day appointments.
The Government said if re-elected, it would extend free GP visits to older children on a phased basis.
Recent figures show that 16,356 over-70s lost their full medical cards in a year after the Government tightened the eligibility criteria.
A medical card is more valuable than a GP visit card because it provides free medication. Mr Varadkar said this was the next step to universal healthcare.
Social Care Minister Kathleen Lynch added: "As we continue to expand free GP care to those under 18 years of age, we will also provide more services in primary care.
"We will focus on early intervention, providing services such as minor surgery and managing chronic illnesses such as diabetes and asthma in primary care.
"As the number of primary care teams and centres continue to increase, so too will the range of services being provided."
All 2,404 GPs will provide the over-70s service.