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Poverty fears over 50c fee on medicine

A controversial 50 cent charge for medical card prescriptions will be introduced on October 1.

The Department of Health confirmed that the charge, announced in latest Budget, will apply to each prescription item dispensed to medical card holders.

The total charge per family per month will be capped at €10.

The charge will have a major impact on people who are already struggling to pay their bills, according to Stephen McMahon of the Irish Patients' Association.

The Department of Health, the Health Service Executive and the Irish Pharmacy Union are working to put in place the necessary arrangements for the implementation of the charges.

With the total charge per family per month capped at €10, the HSE is set to put in place a refund system in order to refund families who exceed the monthly ceiling.

It said that prescription charges will not apply to:

nChildren in the care of the HSE who have their own medical card. This includes children in residential care, foster care, foster care with relatives and other care placements;

nThe Long-Term Illness scheme;

nThe Drugs Payment scheme;

nPeople who receive services under the Health (Amendment) Act;

nOr to methadone supplied to patients participating in the methadone treatment scheme.

However, in relation to the new charges, Mr McMahon pointed out that €10 can make a huge difference to households. Some families and people are struggling to cope day to day, he said.

He said many families are facing back-to-school costs and any unexpected increase in weekly costs will have a direct impact on them.



fears

He said that he would like to see compassion shown. He would like a process put in place to assist people if they are experiencing hardship as a result of the new prescription charges.

Mr McMahon added: "I am not convinced all avenues were explored to generate the revenues that this will contribute."

There was a widespread criticism of the new charges when they were first mooted.

Fears were expressed that they could lead to the underuse of essential drugs by medical-card holders.

In addition, the Society for the St Vincent de Paul pointed out that a fee per prescription takes no account of ability to pay.

fdillon@herald.ie