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Minister says it's 'absolutely deadly' that more people have availed of free dental and eye exams

Regina Doherty said there’d been a fourfold increase in the number of claims for free treatment benefits.

Minister for Social Protection Regina Doherty
Minister for Social Protection Regina Doherty
Image: Sam Boal/

MINISTER FOR SOCIAL Protection Regina Doherty has said there has been a surge in uptake for free optical and dental treatments since self-employed workers and their spouses were added to the scheme.

The provision of dental cleaning and the supply or repair has been particularly popular, she said, in response to a question from Fine Gael party colleague Peter Fitzpatrick in the Dáil yesterday.

Minister Doherty said: “Between self-employed contributors and their dependent spouses, those changes have added 450,000 customers to the scheme, which I think is absolutely deadly.”

She said that over 330,000 claims have been processed and paid in the three months from November 2017 to January 2018, describing it as a fourfold increase on the previous year.

The restoration of provisions such as dental came into effect last October, with workers entitled to a full-scale and polish, and if necessary, protracted periodontal treatment, in addition to the existing free dental exam.

While Fitzpatrick had asked specifically about uptake of the benefits among the self-employed, Doherty couldn’t provide specific figures but said the increase in claims was a “good indicator”.

She said: “It is not possible to identify treatment benefit claims from the self-employed without significant analysis and development work, as the Department does not record this information under separate pay-related social insurance, PRSI, classes.  We do not ask when a service use appears whether they are employed or self-employed.”

Fitzpatrick said that self-employed people should be entitled to the same benefits as a full-time person working to pay their PRSI.

“To me it is a brave person who gets up in the morning, goes to the bank, gets a loan and starts his or her own business,” he said. “These people have to be looked after.”

Doherty replied that she agreed with her party colleague, and said that her department was working on a scheme that would provide jobseeker’s allowance and jobseeker’s benefit to self-employed people who become unemployed.

She added: “If I won the lotto tomorrow, we might do it much sooner than we will be able to.  It is very much dependent on the growth in the economy.

The economy is in a good place at the moment, and if those trajectories keep going in the right direction I anticipate that we will be able to do it within the lifetime of this government, assuming that we have a full term.

Read: ‘I never cost the State a penny, but now they’re taking part of my pension’

Read: Your PRSI will now let you get a free scale and polish

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