Prescription hike could yield €100m for HSE
THE controversial prescription charge imposed on medical card holders would generate up to €100m for the HSE if proposals to raise it to €2 go ahead.
The charge is already due to generate €25m for the cash-strapped health service this year, the Irish Independent has learned.
Although the 50c charge is unlikely to be raised that much, the funds it is generating for the health service will make it difficult for Health Minister James Reilly to abolish it, despite a pledge to do so in the Programme for Government.
Dr Reilly was vehemently against the introduction of the charge last autumn, warning "it would hit the most vulnerable". However, it is now on a 'hit list' of possible health hikes which he is considering, along with a €50 annual charge on medical cards.
Darragh O'Loughlin, spokesman for pharmacists, said if the charge was increased it was essential certain groups be exempted, otherwise it would leave vulnerable patients unable to afford medicines.
The other draconian proposals -- which the minister said would be necessary if all cuts were frontloaded in 2012, rather than spread out over three years -- include changes in eligibility for medical cards, charges for home help, and the closure of 800 nursing home beds.
A spokesman for the Department of Health said the proposals to extend free GP care to around 56,000 people covered by the Long Term Illness Scheme remained on course, even though this measure was also listed as being for the possible axe by the minister.
Meanwhile, it was confirmed that the HSE has told doctors not to put any new medical card patients on an expensive drug which can thin the blood and reduce the risk of blood clots.
The medicine Pradaxa is around 10 times the cost of Warfarin but it is much more convenient for the patient, who does not have to go for regular blood tests. Any patient currently on Pradaxa is not affected by the clarification.