On 14 September, Minister for Health James Reilly announced that he had received Cabinet approval to lift restrictions on GPs treating patients with medical cards. So will this make it easier for people to access GPs and drive down the high costs of GP visits?
Quite simply we don’t know yet, and will have to wait for the detail of the legislation will determine whether it will or not, but let’s look at its origins in the EU/IMF Programme for National Recovery. There it says that, “All restrictions on appropriately trained GPs who wish to hold General Medical Scheme (GMS) contracts will be abolished.” This sentence - on page 33 - is contained in the section on professional services, where it is acknowledged that the costs of many professional services have come down but in a few specific areas – legal, insurance and GPs – they have not. The Competition Authority has also called for measures to increase competitiveness in this sector.
The aim is to drive down the costs of GP care through more open competition between GPs, which in turn should make GPs more accessible. However, the rules of the market do not always apply to health or GP care; particularly in this context, where the vast majority of GPs’ income comes from their medical card patients. In other words, the majority of their income does not come from the private free market but from annually guaranteed public money.