ALMOST four in 10 voters want the next government to relax the means test for medical cards, a new Irish Independent/Millward Brown Lansdowne poll reveals.
The numbers who have qualified for medical cards due to unemployment and cuts in wages have soared to 39pc of the population.
However, tens of thousands of people above the income limits are still struggling to pay doctors' fees.
According to the poll, 39pc of people think the existing eligibility criteria are "too difficult". One-third of those polled -- 33pc -- said it was "about right".
Just 17pc said the medical card means-test was too easy, while 16pc said they "didn't know".
The results are significant because both Fine Gael and Labour are promising free GP care -- but have admitted it will take years to introduce.
It will be four years before the Labour Party believes it will be able to extend free GP care to all while Fine Gael will only begin phasing it in by 2016.
Labour has committed to extending cards to more groups, such as those on the long-term illness scheme, in the early phase of the next government.
Fine Gael health spokesman Dr James Reilly was highly critical of what he saw as overly restrictive eligibility criteria when he was president of the Irish Medical Organisation.
Fine Gael's manifesto says it will look at extending the GP visit card to more people, but that this was subject to the state of the public finances.