New figures released to Fianna Fáil Finance spokesperson Michael McGrath indicate that €312m in prescription charges have been collected from medical card patients since 2011 despite a commitment from the government to abolish the charge. Last year the charge amounted to a massive €120m and a further €48m has been collected in the first 6 months of this year.
Medical card holders are required to pay a charge of €2.50 per item for medicines and other prescription items supplied to them by community pharmacists, subject to a cap of €25 per month for each person or family. The charge has been increased by 200% since 2011.
Deputy McGrath commented: “In his first major interview after his appointment as Minister for Health in 2011, James Reilly declared his intention to abolish prescription charges giving a clear indication that it could happen as soon as later that month. He claimed that prescription charge were not a wise policy as they could prevent people from being able to get the medicines they need.
“Just over 18 months later Minister Reilly performed a spectacular u-turn, trebling the 50c prescription charge to €1.50. In Budget 2014 he compounded his hypocrisy by adding another €1 to the charge. This was a deplorable breach of faith by the Minister and this government and has taken hundreds of millions from the most vulnerable in society. Minister Varadkar despite his fine words has been happy to continue to preside over this situation.
“Healthcare professionals have consistently described the charges as short sighted, potentially resulting in more people having to be hospitalised when this could have been avoided through primary care. This ultimately only increases the cost of healthcare for the State. The government claims it is seeking to help low and middle income families. However, medical card holders who are by their nature some of the most disadvantaged in society are paying up to €25 a month for vital medicines. There is no justification for this charge and Fianna Fáil is committed to the phased abolition of prescription charges.
“It is worth remembering that the government have also slashed the Drug Payment scheme which helps families who fall just outside the threshold for a medical card but have large ongoing monthly expenses. According to a separate parliamentary reply I have received, the scheme supported 429,102 people in 2011 providing €142m to help with prescription costs. As a result of the changes implemented to the scheme, there has been a reduction of 33% in the number of people benefitting from it and a massive fall of €75m (53%) in the total funding under the scheme. Yet again families with high medical costs are being asked to bear the brunt of government policies.”