BMI View : The increase in prescription charges in Ireland at a time when the recession is biting. Unemployment is high and salary freezes and cuts are the norm. This will lead to significant pressure being placed on patients in Ireland - ultimately reducing access to healthcare services in a country characterised by a growing and ageing population.
In Ireland, the state pays for approximately 80% of all medicines. The ultimate cost to the state of medicines dispensed in the community depends upon which community medicine scheme the patient uses to access the medicines. There are four principal schemes that determine whether patients get free or reimbursed medicines - the General Medical Services Scheme (GMS - medical cards), Drug Payment Scheme (DPS), Long Term Illness Scheme (LTI) and the Hi-Tech Scheme.
Prescription Charges For Medical Card Holders To Increase
Highlighting a focus on cost containment, Irish prescription charges are to increase by 66% from December 1 st 2013 and are expected to create savings of EUR43mn (US$58mn) in 2014. Prescription items were dispensed free to medical card holders up to the year 2010, when a 50c charge was introduced, capped at a monthly total of EUR10 (US$14). Currently people with medical cards pay EUR1.50 (US$2.05) for every item dispensed to them, subject to a cap of EUR19.50 (US$26.70) per month. But under the new rules, they will have to pay EUR2.50 (US$3.42) per item, with the monthly cap increased by 28% to EUR25 (US$34). The increase in charges therefore represents a five-fold increase in four years.
Government Looking To Create Further Savings
The number of people eligible for a medical card has increased by almost 550,000 since 2005 and in 2011 here were 1.70mn people eligible to use medical card - equivalent to 37.2% of the population. However, following the implementation of the agreement between the Irish Pharmaceutical Healthcare Association (IPHA) and the Health Service Executive (HSE) in 2006 and the subsequent savings provided by IPHA members in 2010 and 2011, figures show that the cost in euros of medicines per person has decreased significantly, from EUR852 (US$1,166) in 2009 to EUR697 (US$954) in 2011. Highlighting the effect of cost containment, in 2010 GMS expenditure on medicines fell by 2% to EUR1.23bn (US$1.68bn) from EUR1.26bn (US$1.72bn) in 2009.
|Disposable Incomes Are Low|
The higher prescription charges have been condemned by patients' and carers' groups, who point out that they will particularly impact older and chronically ill people who are on a variety of medications and could lead to such patients rationing their treatments. The number of cardholders aged 65 and over has increased by approximately 44% since 1994 (a trend significantly accentuated by the granting of medical cards to everyone over 70 years old in 2001). In 2011, the total number of medical card holders aged above 65 reached 428,272. We believe that in addition to the ageing population, the persistently high unemployment rate is a concern.