Government Tax on prescriptions for the over 70s.
I think there is a little confusion among certain medical card holders over the recent changes to the Government Tax (or levy) on medicines received on their medical cards. I’ll try to outline the changes here so it’s easier to understand.
In Ireland, if you have a medical card, there is a charge (I call it a tax) imposed by the Government for medicines that you get on prescription from pharmacies. The prescription charge for most patients is €2.50 for each item that is dispensed to you, under the medical card scheme, up to a maximum of €25 per month per person or family.
This all began in October, 2010 when the Government introduced the tax at a 50c per item rate. The maximum then, was €10 for individuals or families per month. This was somewhat accepted by the wider public as a good measure so patients became aware of the items that they needed and those they really didn’t need to collect from their pharmacy every month. Subsequently, most patients were happy to pay the new levy/tax and found it to be fair enough.
Fast forward to December 2013, and the 50cent levy was hiked up to €2.50 per item with a maximum cut off of €25.00. This placed undue burden on households and pharmacists had to listen to the harrowing stories from patients who couldn’t manage to pay. On taking office in March 2011, Dr James Reilly, Minister for Health promised to scrap the controversial 50 cent levy on prescription items for medical card holders…but three years on, it was five times more expensive.
In his first television interview after being named Minister for Health, Dr. Reilly pledged to get rid of the unpopular levy which was introduced by the Fianna Fáil-led government in 2010. He described the charge as an unwise policy, stating that it could prevent people from obtaining necessary medications.
The prescription levy had increased steadily each year since 2010. The Pharmacy Union lobbied against these charges as Pharmacists felt they were putting economic barriers in the way of patients taking their medicines. Patients living with heart disease and cancer, or at risk of any chronic disease, should be focusing on getting better and keeping well not worrying about how they’re going to pay for their next vital prescription. Poor adherence to treatments, especially in the case of chronic illness and long-term patients means more hospital stays, more pressure on our already struggling and depleting health service and more cost to the exchequer in the treatment of these patients in the long run.
Personally, I have seen patients take a few months “break” from their vital medicines due to financial stress. This often ends up with a hospital visit or a worsening of their condition and
usually an increase in medicines prescribed. We have not measured the number of fatalities due to missed medicines because of this Government levy, but it can be a contributing factor in my belief.
In the October budget for 2017, it was announced by the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform that the monthly GMS levy cap for over 70 year olds was to be reduced. From 1st March 2017, the prescription levy for persons aged 70 & over and their entire family unit will be reduced from €2.50 per item to €2.00 per item, with the monthly cap reduced from €25 to €20, i.e. the reduced levy will apply to their spouse and all their dependants.
The Government made no administrative changes to implement this decrease in levy. On March 1st, the Minister for Health Simon Harris announced the change in the tax/levy but there were no arrangements in place or notice to the pharmacists who had to implement the changes. In fact, once March 1st arrived, pharmacies were not even informed by the HSE to let us know that the changes were to be implemented. At Grant’s Pharmacy, we implemented them anyway, knowing that our over 70’s patients should be treated with the respect they deserve. Pharmacists were left to ask our patients if they were over 70, as the HSE had not supplied us with any information as to the eligibility of medical card holders over 70. Software companies had not even written the software to keep the computers in line with the new fees.
To avoid misunderstanding and because pharmacy staff will not necessarily know which of their patients are over 70, we prepared a notice for display in Grant’s pharmacy, advising patients who are aged over 70 to make that known to us before dropping in their prescription. Once we can identify all of your family members then you should not pay more than €20 a month if you, or a member of your family is over 70. A family is defined as you, your spouse or partner, any children under 16 years of age and any children between 16 and 21 years of age who are in full time education.
You can set your family up as a family group on medicalcard.ie and print off a family certificate to give to us in Grant’s Pharmacy. This will show all of the members of your family so that the pharmacy will not collect charges above the monthly limit inadvertently.
If you do not have access to the internet you can get assistance from your Local Health Office or call 1890 252 919 and they will take the details and send you the certificate. Your local Grant’s pharmacist will also be able to help you. You will need to have the medical card number for each member of your family. The prescription charges are eligible for tax relief for medical expenses.
My main message today is – If you are over 70 and have a medical card, let us know in Grant’s Pharmacy and we will do the maths for you and I assure you, you will not pay more than you need to. Call in today if you have any questions at all.
While you are collecting your monthly prescription in Grants Pharmacy make sure to ask our staff about our new Click and Collect service. Simply log on to our website www.grantspharmacy.ie and follow the links to click and collect. Reserve your prescription and our staff will receive an email and have your prescription ready for you – no more waiting plus more time for you!
We are located in Wexford, Enniscorthy and Arklow beside Pettitts Supervalu and in Gorey town on the Avenue. Find us on facebook.