In-patient charges for children under 16 will be abolished and free contraception for women aged 17-25 will be available from September.

Currently there is a hospital charge of €80 per night up to a maximum of 10 nights in a 12-month period, while medical card holders and some others are exempt.

The Health (Miscellaneous Provisions) (No. 2) Act 2022 - which abolishes in-patient charges for children under 16 in all public hospitals and also provides for the free contraception scheme - was signed into law today by President Michael D Higgins.

The two measures are scheduled to come into operation by "early September", the Government said.

Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly said: "Abolishing acute in-patient hospital charges for children under 16 is focused towards easing the financial burden of parents or guardians when bringing their child to hospital for in-patient care.

"Free contraception is a cost-effective measure, reducing both crisis pregnancy and termination of pregnancy rates.

"Given that the costs of prescription contraception are typically faced by women, the scheme will impact positively on gender equity, reducing costs for women, but also benefitting their partners and families, starting with women aged 17-25."

The scheme will cover the full cost of prescription contraception, the Government said.

This includes the cost of:

- Necessary consultations with medical professionals to discuss suitable contraception options with individual patients and to enable prescription of same.

- Fitting and/or removal of various types of long-acting reversible contraception (LARCs) plus any necessary checks, by medical professionals certified to fit/remove same.

- Providing the wide range of contraceptive options currently available to medical card holders, which will also be available through this scheme, including contraceptive injections, implants, IUS and IUDs (coils), the contraceptive patch and ring, and various forms of oral contraceptive pill, including emergency contraception.

Currently, those with a medical card have access to most forms of contraception at minimal cost, subject only to the prescription charge of €1.50 per item, up to a maximum of €15 per month.

While those with a GP visit card are supported to some extent, as the necessary consultations are free of charge.

Furthermore, the Drugs Payment Scheme covers the cost of prescription items including LARCs, above a limit of €80 per month.

The Government said it recognised that the cost of accessing contraception, particularly for those who may still be dependent on parents or guardians or who may be just above the means tested thresholds for the medical card and GP Visit cards, "may impose a significant barrier to access".

Costs for the pill and similar repeat prescription contraceptives are estimated at €65-100 every six months, and the initial costs of long-acting reversible contraception, including consultation, purchase of the device and fitting, typically range from €250-€320.

If the costs of removal are also included, the costs rise to €340-€470.