Fine Gael promises to halve drug payment bills for families

Hundreds of thousands of families paying for medicines under the drug payment scheme could see huge savings under Fine Gael proposals to limit costs.

The maximum annual payment for drugs will be halved for the 400,000 people with severe illnesses getting medicines through the scheme, under the party’s election promises.

This would see families paying a maximum €864 a year for medicines as opposed to the current cap which stands at €1,728 for an individual or family.

The measure is part of Fine Gael’s plan to make healthcare more affordable and is expected to be confirmed in the coming days, at a proposed cost of €87m over the next five years.

However, it has also emerged that Fine Gael is already in disagreement with its coalition partner, Labour, after the first day of the election campaign with large gaps emerging in their proposals over free GP care.

Labour insists that the spending power there for the next government would allow them provide free GP care for all the population over the next five years.

But Health Minister Leo Varadkar immediately shot down proposals backed by Labour leader Joan Burton, saying this would require the employment of 2,000 new GPs by 2021.

The dispute between the two coalition parties, only after the election has started, will raise serious questions about the ability of Fine Gael and Labour to do business together if they received enough support from voters to return to government.

Mr Varadkar instead confirmed that Fine Gael will promise to extend free GP care only to people up to the age of 18 during the lifetime of the next government.

He said that Fine Gael’s health policy was “ambitious and realistic”. He said that free GP care had already been extended for under 6s and over 70s to over 300,000 people.

Asked why Labour is sticking with the free GP care plan despite Fine Gael’s view, Ms Burton said “the answer to that is to ask [Health Minister] Leo Varadkar why don’t we train up more GPs”.

“We have some of the smartest young people in western Europe, so let’s keep a future for those bright young people and encourage them to become doctors and become nurses,” she said.

“n terms of free GP care what we want is to ensure families are not afraid about either the parents taking themselves to the doctor or even more importantly for most parents taking their kids to a doctor,” Ms Burton said.

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