Free prescriptions: You may have to fork out £9.35 per item for 6 more years – plan mooted
Martin Lewis offers advice on NHS prescriptions
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Last year, the Government put forward a proposal to hike the qualifying age for the “freebie” benefit to the state pension age, which is 66. As it stands, residents in England are able to claim free prescriptions once they turn 60. It should be noted that various vulnerable groups, including those with illnesses, are entitled to free medicine on the NHS and those who live in Scotland and Wales get free prescriptions.
If the Government’s plan were to be rolled out, those affected would have to wait longer for a benefit they were otherwise entitled to.
One of the options being considered by the Government is to raise the qualifying threshold to the state pension age for everyone.
The other option is to have a “period of reflection” which will allow people currently in their 60s to continue getting their prescriptions for free for a bit longer.
This comes as many older households are struggling to cope with soaring energy bills and the pressures of rising inflation.
In its proposal for the transitionary period option, the Government stated: “This would mean that anyone aged 60 and over when the changes to the charges regulations are implemented would continue to be exempt from prescription charges.
“Whereas those aged 59 and under when the changes to the Charges Regulations are implemented would have to pay for their prescriptions until they reach the state pension age (currently 66), unless they qualify for another exemption.
“The above options would have varying impacts for people who need NHS prescriptions, and could raise additional revenue for the NHS.”
Concerns have been raised by various organisations and charities, including Age UK, over how this decision will affect the health and wellbeing of pensioners.
Caroline Abrahams, the charity director at Age UK, explained: “The money the Government raises if it goes ahead with this proposal will be easily outweighed by the additional costs to the NHS if, as is predictable, some people fail to take their medication and become sicker, more quickly.
“Tens of thousands may require hospital treatment due to rationing of what they take, so this really is a bad idea that will hit people who are poorly and on modest incomes hardest of all.
“Once we reach our early to mid-sixties, many of us are advised by our doctors to take medicines that are proven to keep potentially serious health conditions safely under control.
“If the Government goes ahead with its proposal, it is clear that some people will be reluctant to act on symptoms or get a diagnosis, for fear they will be unable to afford long term, symptom relieving or even in some cases lifesaving medication.
“The Government should definitely think again.”
Professor Martin Marshall, the chair of Council of Royal College of General Practitioners, warned that the long-term impact of taking away free prescriptions from over 60s could be a disastrous one.
The medical expert added: “Introducing an additional cost for over 60s managing long term health conditions will, albeit unintentionally, disproportionately affect a large group of patients who are on low incomes but just above the threshold for financial help with the costs of their medication.
“Many patients are already waiting longer for treatment or will have seen their health deteriorate as a result of the challenges of the last 18 months.
“This change will discourage patients who are financially less well-off from managing their health proactively, and could mean that they present to general practice when their problems are far worse and at a time when general practice is already at breaking point.”
Last month, a Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “Around 90 percent of community prescription items in England are free of charge, and people don’t pay if they are on a low income, over 60 years old, or have certain medical conditions.
“The upper age exemption has not changed since 1995 and that is why we have consulted on restoring the link with the state pension age.
“No decision has yet been made – we are considering the responses carefully and will respond in due course.”
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