HSE tells patients to ask for refunds from pharmacies
SOME consumers have succeeded in getting pharmacies to refund excessive mark-ups on prescription drugs, the Irish Independent has learnt.
John Phelan said he had managed to recoup more than €100 in drug costs, after the HSE told him he had been charged too much.
An investigation by the Irish Independent earlier this week highlighted the exorbitant mark-ups on drug prices being charged by pharmacies -- but some customers in the State's Drug Payment Scheme (DPS) have been able to get these reduced.
Film producer Mr Phelan urged other consumers to follow his example by insisting on lower prices.
He had submitted a claim for reimbursement under the DPS to the HSE for prescription drugs purchased in pharmacies. Under the DPS families are entitled to claim back anything over €120 a month that they spend on prescription drugs.
But the HSE said it could not refund the full amount claimed as the receipts he submitted "did not have the correct price calculated by the pharmacy".
For example, Mr Phelan had been charged €64.09 for Roaccutane at Unicare even though the price agreed between the State and pharmacists was €50.10. This included a 20pc pharmacy mark-up and €5 dispensing fee.
On another occasion he had been charged €123.71 for a larger packet of the same drug at Boots, compared with the HSE-set price of €95.19.
There were similar discrepancies with other medications -- but the HSE said it could only refund clients on the basis of the lower prices.
Mr Phelan had paid for the drugs in different pharmacies which is why he had to go to the HSE for a refund when the total cost of all the drugs went over €120. If all the drugs are bought in one pharmacy, nothing has to be paid beyond the first €120.
Mr Phelan, from Churchtown in Dublin, had gone back to the pharmacies and all had refunded him the difference -- although without admitting any obligation to do so.
The total refunds had come to more than €100, Mr Phelan said. A HSE source said it encouraged a large number of DPS clients to seek refunds, but had little feedback on how many were successful.
The HSE and the IMF have called for lower retail mark-ups to be passed on to all 1.5 million consumers with a DPS card.
However, the Irish Pharmacy Union insisted last night that individual pharmacists were free to set their own prices.
"Our position is that consumers are private patients until they reach the €120 threshold," an IPU spokesperson said.
Unicare managing director Cormac Tobin said it was not "overcharging" patients for drugs as the HSE was not allowed fix prices for drugs under €120 a month.
"We do sometimes refund customers because we want to keep them happy and keep their business, but the legal position is very clear that we are not overcharging," he said.
Mr Phelan said he was concerned some vulnerable people would be too nervous to seek lower prices. "I'm concerned that senior citizens are less likely to take this matter up and demand refunds as they might worry about getting into a row with their pharmacist," he said.