Budget 2013 Health: Prescription charge U-turn ‘shameful’

The doctors’ union that James Reilly was once president of has described as “shameful” his U-turn on prescription charges which he had previously firmly opposed.

Yesterday the Irish Medical Organisation (IMO) said the effect of the €1-per-item hike would be “to discourage sick people from accessing medicines”.

The increase means medical card holders who previously paid 50c per item prescribed will now pay €1.50.

Chair of the IMO GP Committee, Dr Ray Walley said Dr Reilly had until very recently been “one of the sharpest critics of prescription charges” variously promising to review or abolish the charge. Instead he had presided over a threefold increase.

The IMO also condemned the withdrawal of medical cards from 20,000 pensioners. People aged 70 and older with an income of €600-€700 p/wk for a single person and €1,200-€1,400 p/wk for a couple will have their medical card replaced with a GP-only card. Dr Reilly also intends to tighten the eligibility criteria when assessing people for medical cards. This will mean certain outgoings previously taken into account when assessing eligibility eg expenditure on home improvement loans or second home loans — will be restricted. It is also intended to include certain forms of income that are currently disregarded in the assessment process. Dr Reilly said further details in relation to tightening of eligibility for a medical card will be outlined in the HSE national service plan 2013.

Fianna Fáil health spokesperson Billy Kelleher slammed the move by Dr Reilly to restrict eligibility to the over-70s medical card.

“Four years ago when faced with more generous eligibility criteria then he is now proposing, Minister Reilly was a model of fury and indignation in his opposition.... Today that has been exposed for the deceitful bluster it was. A minister who promises universal healthcare is now restricting it and introducing a major roll-back of healthcare entitlements for our seniors,” Mr Kelleher said.

Older & Bolder director Patricia Conboy said having a GP card instead of a medical card would limit access to vital supports including public health nursing, social work services, community care services and certain in-patient public hospital services. It also meant any prescribed drugs associated with a GP visit are not free.

Ms Conboy also criticised the changes to the Drugs Payment Scheme. The threshold for support in purchasing prescription drugs has increased from €132 a month to €144.

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