Fianna Fáil Finance Spokesperson Michael McGrath has described new figures on the annual cost of the Drug Payment Scheme (DPS), which provides support for families towards the cost of prescription medicine, as further evidence of the huge toll which has been placed on low and middle income families by this government.

The scheme is targeted at those families who do not qualify for a medical card but have large ongoing monthly medical expenses. Under the Drugs Payment Scheme, a family pays a maximum of €144 a month for approved prescribed drugs, medicines and certain medical appliances for their use. The State then picks up the cost of prescriptions drugs and medicines above this level.

The Government has twice raised the threshold from €120 to €132 at the start of 2012 and to €144 in 2013. This results in fewer families qualifying for assistance under the scheme. As a result, they have to meet the entire cost of their medical bills on their own

Deputy McGrath commented, “This is a vital scheme to support those who do not qualify for a medical card. Families, particularly those who have a child with an ongoing medical condition such as asthma, can incur huge ongoing costs for prescriptions. The Drug Payment Scheme should be an effective means of alleviating these costs.

However the changes implemented by Minister James Reilly and carried on by his successor Leo Varadkar have effectively ripped the scheme to shreds.

“According to a 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 53% in the total funding under the scheme. Additional medicine costs of €75m has been heaped on thousands of middle income families as a direct result of changes made by the government.

“The average annual benefit under the scheme has fallen from €331 to €234. It is important to remember that before anyone can benefit under the DPS, they have to spend €144 in a single month on medicines. In this example, a family could incur €1,728 in a full year before receiving assistance of just €234. In other words, just 12% of the prescription costs are covered by the State despite a family incurring expenditure approaching €2,000.

“Fianna Fáil put forward a number of proposals at the time of the last budget which would assist those families who have suffered the greatest squeeze on their incomes in recent years. Included in this package was a proposal to reduce the monthly threshold for the Drug Payment Scheme to €120 with the intention of reducing it to €100 in subsequent years. This would be a recognition of the huge burden which prescriptions represent for thousands of families,” concluded Deputy McGrath.