New ESRI research examines the cost of extending free GP care to the whole population

Research published today by the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) has found that extending free GP care to all in 2026 would cost the State between €381 million and €881 million.

This research, funded by the Department of Health, estimates the cost of extending free GP care over time (2023-2026), examining scenarios where the extension is based on (1) age and (2) income. The analysis used varying assumptions about population growth and ageing, take-up rates and payments to GPs.

Key findings:

  • It was estimated that there would be an additional 1.9 to 2.3 million GP visits in 2026 if free GP care is extended to all. 
  • The projected cost to the State in 2026 of extending free GP care to all was estimated to be €462 million to €881 million using the age-based approach and €381 million to €881 million using the income-based approach.
  • Higher costs are associated with higher take-up rates and payments rates for GPs.
  • Introducing free GP care would reduce out-of-pocket expenditure on GP services in 2026 from an estimated €467 million to €95 million (using the age-based approach).

Commenting on the findings, Dr Sheelah Connolly, lead author of the report said:

“The Sláintecare Report noted the need to move towards a universal health-care system for Ireland. Increasing the number of people entitled to free GP care would help achieve this objective. However, there may not be a sufficient number of GPs available to deliver the additional visits associated with the ageing and growing population, as well as an increase in the number of people eligible for free GP care in the coming years. If there are not sufficient GPs to meet the additional demand for their services, then, while financial barriers to access may be removed, other barriers including long waits or no availability could hinder access, thereby undermining the universality of the system.”