Reduced prescription charges and further access to free GP care will benefit hundreds of thousands of people under Budget measures which take effect this week.
Health Minister Simon Harris said the measures would ensure bills for medicines and doctors would be reduced from next month as part of affordable health care changes.
“This is a very tangible outcome of the Slaintecare report," he said yesterday during a visit to a primary care centre event in Grangegorman, Dublin.
"Slaintecare says very clearly to make GP care available to people on the basis of income, reduce the costs of going to a pharmacy if you have levied prescription charges and increase the threshold for the drugs payment scheme."
From April 1, there will be a €10 reduction in the monthly drugs payment scheme threshold from €134 to €124, benefiting an estimated 44,000 families. There will also be a 10% increase across all GP visit card weekly income thresholds which is expected to benefit up to 100,000 people.
Lastly, there will be a reduction in prescription charges from €2 to €1.50 for all medical card holders over the age of 70. This is expected to result in savings for over 200,000 older citizens.
Separately, Mr Harris defended progress on the Slaintecare plan after Deputy Michael Harty (Ind), chairman of the Oireachtas Committee on Health, expressed concern over the scope of funding allocated to the Sláintecare integration fund. The original Sláintecare report previously highlighted the need for a transitional fund of €3billion over the first six years of a 10-year plan.
Mr Harris said the €20m dedicated, so far, into the health reform plan was only the start for its funding: “Deputy Harty would be correct if €20 million was all we were allocating to Slaintecare. Of course, it is not. It is one of many many elements we are allocating. Over €200million will be spent on Sláintecare this year.”
Detailing the new measures, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar referred to increases in welfare payments and other benefits agreed. “This week will also see increases in weekly welfare payments to carers, people with disabilities, widows, lone parent and jobseekers. There are also special increases for low-income families with children,” he said.
Disability allowance, one parent family payment, jobseekers transitional payment, carer's allowance and the family income supplement all increase this week along with various pension schemes.
Meanwhile, Mr Harris criticised Fianna Fail for voicing concern over plans to index pensions. Social Protection Minister Regina Doherty is proposing linking payment changes to inflation.
Mr Harris said that criticism from Deputy Willie O'Dea was unwarranted: "Linking things is not actually about setting the ceiling. It’s about setting the floor. It’s about making sure our pensioners are actually guaranteed that as costs rise that those costs are met by the pension.
Minister Doherty will be continuing to outline the government position on this – but I do think the position has been rather mischievously misrepresented by the master of it, which is Deputy O’Dea."