Double hit for patients on medication

EFFORTS to tackle the state’s spiralling drugs bill will see patients on medication facing a double hit.

Prescription charges for medical card holders will be introduced. But elsewhere, non-medical card holders face a rise in monthly costs under the drug payment scheme.

Introducing prescription charges of 50 cent per item to the 1.4 million people with medical cards is expected to save €15 million next year, when started in April. The financial burden will be softened by a monthly ceiling cost of €10 per family.

Elsewhere, users of the Drug Payment Scheme will now pay a maximum of €120 per month as opposed to €100. The scheme – where medicine costs are paid for by the state beyond the threshold – will bring in savings of €27m next year once introduced in January.

But the Irish Medical Organisation (IMO) said changes to the Drugs Payment Scheme would discourage the use of medication, ultimately leading to an increase in the use of health services.

IMO president Prof Joe Barry added that prescription charges for medical card holders would also disproportionately affect the elderly, low-income groups and those suffering from long-term disease.

Health Minister Mary Harney defended the budget move, saying the prescription charges were nowhere close to Bord Snip’s recommendation of €5 per item.

An extra €97m for the Fair Deal scheme for nursing home care was also announced, but support group Age Action said this fell well short of the €250m it estimated was needed for assessments under the system next year.

“Now we’re going to have a situation where everybody who needs a bed takes a place in the queue,” said the group’s Eamon Timmons.

Fine Gael also criticised next year’s “paltry €10m” allocation for home care packages, which the party’s health spokesman James Reilly said meant elderly patients would continue to remain in acute beds when they needed better care.

Overall savings in health next year include €659m in pay cuts, as well as another €400m in non-pay areas.

Hospital consultants face graded pay cuts of 8% for those on salaries between €125,000 and €165,000. Those on more than €200,000 face a 15% drop in pay.

The budget also sets out a new universal health and social levy which will be a low rate for everyone and eventually replace employee PRSI and the health levy.

The minister said it remained to be seen how much the new universal levy would be. The department vote also revealed a significant cut of 18%, or a drop from €418m to €344m next year, in the building and equipping of health facilities. But Ms Harney said a 20% drop in procurement costs would help make up the savings needed.


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