Thousands of people covered by a medical card or GP visit card will have them automatically renewed for a year during the coronavirus crisis, it was announced yesterday.
It means those whose card comes up for renewal will not have to worry about processing an updated application with the HSE.
It comes amid growing concern about the health needs of patients who do not have Covid-19 and fears about the impact of waiting lists, as well as the reluctance to seek medical care amid the virus threat.
The medical card and GP visit card will reduce any financial disincentive to people on lower incomes to contact their family doctor.
Health Minister Simon Harris confirmed the automatic renewal yesterday.
"I know this is a worrying time for everybody. We have made the decision to extend eligibility to ensure people do not lose their medical card or their GP visit card during this time," he said.
"I hope this will make things a bit easier when things are tough enough. I also hope this will ensure people continue to access care, beyond Covid."
It comes as another 16 tragic deaths from the virus were announced by the Department of Health.
It brings the death toll to 1,319 since the start of the pandemic here.
A further 266 newly confirmed cases of Covid-19 were diagnosed, signalling a downturn which has seen the daily growth rate of the virus fall to around 2pc for the last eight days.
It means that 21,772 have caught the virus here so far.
The number of seriously ill patients with the virus in intensive care units remains below 100, at 93, with another 20 suspected cases.
However, overall around 900 patients who have the virus are ill enough to be treated in hospital, prompting Mr Harris to describe the overall situation as fragile despite plans to begin the gradual unwinding of the lockdown.
Meanwhile, people over 70, and those whose health leaves them at increased risk, are advised they can go for a daily walk from today.
But the organisation Alone said the Government should consider the long-term detrimental effect that cocooning is having on the physical and mental health of older people.
"Alone has noted that the long-term physical health and wellbeing of older people is also being affected, with cocooning measures preventing older people living in the community from staying active, accessing home support and attending medical appointments," it said.
Enda Egan of Inclusion Ireland, representing families of people with an intellectual disability, also welcomed clarification in Department of Health guidelines on care of disabled people during the coronavirus pandemic.
"As should always be the case, this supplementary document states that people with disabilities should not be discriminated against when it comes to accessing healthcare, up to and including intensive care," he said.
"It is reassuring that the Minister for Health and the department have provided this written clarity regarding access to treatment.
"There were many people with intellectual disabilities and their families who were very concerned with the previous wording in documents and the absence of consideration for the rights of persons with disabilities within them."