PRE-Christmas austerity measures have kicked in for thousands of medical-card holders who are being forced to pay for a €1 hike in prescription charges.
The Budget measure, announced in October, took effect from Sunday and leaves medical-card holders paying €2.50 for every prescription item.
Pharmacists said many people were shocked at having to dig deep into their pockets following the increase of €1 per prescription item.
Medical-card holders previously paid a prescription charge of €1.50 per item subject to a cap of €19.50 per month per person or family. However, the €2.50 charge brings the monthly cap to €25, a move which will particularly hit pensioners and others on low incomes.
They have suffered a five-fold increase in prescription charges since the Government came into power – despite a pledge by Health Minister James Reilly that he would abolish the charges.
The hike will mean that medical-card holders are shelling out a another €43m in 2014.
Darragh O'Loughlin, head of the Irish Pharmacy Union, said the word from pharmacists was that many of their customers had been taken by surprise by the hike. "It is already proving to be a financial strain for people who are already struggling on very tight incomes," he said.
Meanwhile, the HSE has had to postpone lowering the price of one of the most frequently prescribed medicines for stomach ulcers.
It had announced that it was going to bring down the cost of Nexium this month through its system of reference pricing.
However, this has had to be postponed until January to allow for more consultation.
The HSE is pinning its hopes on savings of €50m in the drugs budget next year as a result of the implementation of generic drugs substitution and reference pricing.