PENSIONERS with medical cards have been left deeply concerned at the Budget decision to force them to pay €2.50 for each prescription item.
Eamonn Timmins of Age Action Ireland said this "tax on sickness" emerged as a major source of anxiety among callers to its helpline in the wake of the Budget, as many older people were on several medications.
"How can you justify a five-fold increase in three years in the prescription charges? We know that these people are either very sick or very poor," he warned.
The cap on monthly prescription fees has also gone up. The hike will mean that people on many medications, who were paying a maximum of €19.50 in charges a month, will now see this rise to €25.
Phyllis Talbot (78), a widow from Ballymun in Dublin, whose only income is the state pension, said she would have to pay the full €25 a month because she was on so many medications.
"I am on an awful lot of tablets. I have osteoporosis, blood pressure, and I am taking heart tablets for angina. I need a cream for the dry skin.
"I need eye drops and eye ointments. I also have asthma and need an inhaler and I have to take painkillers."
She will also feel the impact of the decision to take away the landline phone allowance as she has children living in Portlaoise and Cavan.
"I can see some people who have an electricity bill to pay cutting down on their medicines in order to save money," she added.
"Paying €25 out of your pension is a lot every month. The ministers who decided to increase this charge will be old themselves some day. If they had to rely on an ordinary week's wage like everyone else, they might start to understand."
Phyllis said if there was a mass boycott of the various charges imposed on older people it would show the Government they were willing to fight. "They could not put us all into jail," she added.
Previous research by Age Action found that growing numbers of pensioners were struggling so hard to pay bills that they were having to "choose food over fuel".
Pharmacists, who have the responsibility to collect this additional €43m from medical card-holders before handing over prescriptions, said that "putting economic barriers in the way of patients taking their medicine doesn't make sense".
Darragh O'Loughlin, a pharmacist in Tuam, Co Galway, and head of the Irish Pharmacy Union, warned: "People living with heart disease, or at risk of the 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, will mean 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. Patients need to be supported, not punished."
The prescription levy has turned out to be an efficient money-earner for the HSE because there is no chasing of patients to pay the bill or hiring of debt collectors.