An estimated 56,000 more people over the age of 70 will be eligible for a medical card as part of Budget 2020.
The move is expected to cost the Exchequer around €30 million. It will see the eligibility threshold for a single person increasing from €500 to €550 per week. For couples, it will increase from €900 to €1,050 per week.
Children have also been targeted in the Budget, with free dental care for those under the age of six and free GP care for those under the age of eight set to be introduced. However, these schemes will not come into effect until September 2020.
Responding to the free dental scheme, the Irish Dental Association said that dentists have "serious concerns about the viability of the proposed changes".
"Moving from a risk-based, targeted public dental service model to a system where children are seen if they attend in private dental practices is very problematic.
"Our members welcome the belated commitment by the State to help families achieve better dental health for children, however these proposals raise the expectations of parents without having any detailed implementation plan or structure in place within a system which has been depleted by inadequate resources over many years," commented the association's CEO, Fintan Hourihan.
Meanwhile, the Irish Medical Organisation (IMO), which represents thousands of doctors, said that the proposal to extend free GP care to children up to the age of eight has not yet been agreed with it.
"As part of the recent IMO GP Deal, the IMO agreed to enter separate negotiations on this issue, but talks have not even begun on how this can be resourced and implemented and we have indicated strongly that this move is not our preferred policy direction given other priorities for investment," commented IMO president, Dr Padraig McGarry.
Budget 2020 also ensures that prescription charges for those with a medical card will be reduced by 50c, while the monthly threshold for the Drug Payment Scheme will be reduced by €10.
While the reduction in prescription charges was welcomed by the Irish Pharmacy Union, it insisted that the charge is a "blunt and unfair tax that targets some of the most vulnerable in society" and should be abolished for all medical card patients.
Meanwhile, the cost of a packet of cigarettes will increase by 50c. While this was welcomed by the Irish Heart Foundation, it insisted that more needs to be done to reduce the number of smokers here.
"The number of smokers in Ireland has fallen by 80,000 over the last three years, but we need further reductions of 100,000 every year up to 2025 to meet the Government target (of less than 5% smokers).
"We believe that increasing the price of a pack of cigarettes to €20 by then, in addition to an immediate quadrupling of investment in quit services to at least €50 million a year are essential to achieving such a sizeable reduction in smoking rates," commented Chris Macey of the foundation.
Other key points in Budget 2020 include:
-One million additional home care hours to be provided next year, from 18 to 19 million
-An increase of €100 in the home carer credit, to €1,600
-Over 1,000 additional special needs assistants to be hired in schools
- The Working Family payment income threshold will increase by €10 for families with up to three children
-Fuel allowance will increase by €2 per week, while the Living Alone Allowance will rise by €5.
-A €25 million increase in funding for the National Treatment Purchase Fund, to help reduce hospital waiting lists.
Overall, the total health budget for 2020 is over €18 billion.
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