Prescription levy to hit the homeless

HOMELESS people, nursing home residents and terminally ill patients will all be subject to the Government prescription levy which will apply from tomorrow.

Medical card holders from tomorrow will be charged 50 cent per item on their prescription including drugs, medicine or medical appliances. The maximum amount chargeable to a person or their family altogether will be €10 a month under the new rules.

Pharmacies were told in recent days to apply the extra charge on medications across a range of patients, the Irish Examiner has learned.

A letter from the Health Service Executive (HSE) to pharmacists has also said the prescription levy will apply to psychiatric patients.

Charities and patient support groups have voiced concern over vulnerable groups being subject to the levy and called for an exemption.

The HSE told pharmacists though the extra medical charge would apply to a range of clients. In the letter, the executive said: “Patients, who have their medicines changed on a weekly/daily basis, including palliative patients, will be subject to the charge.”

The letter went on to say:

“Persons who are homeless and not in a residential centre and who have their own medical card will be required to pay the charges.”

The letter added: “For persons who hold a medical card and are residing in nursing homes, either HSE, or private, or a residential disability centre, the provider of the accommodation will be required to pay the charge on behalf of each resident and make the necessary arrangements for collection of the charge from the residents.”

The charge will also apply to hospital emergency prescriptions, infectious disease regulations (TB drugs) as well as discretionary hardship arrangements, pharmacists have been told.

Medical card holders will have to pay prescription charges for the first time following last year’s budget.

The Government has said they expect the levy could raise up to €25 million a year. Some exemptions have been made under the new charge including for children in care as well as for methadone.

The Irish Patients Association has called for the exemption to be extended.

Chairman Stephen McMahon said: “We’re surprised vulnerable groups will be hit with this. Homeless people are going to have to beg to pay for their medication. Terminally patients should also be exempt from the levy.”

St Vincent de Paul vice president John Monaghan said the charity was wholly opposed to the prescription levy.

“The effect on homeless people or vulnerable patients is that they might not take their medication because they can’t afford to pay this charge.”


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