THOUSANDS of people with long-term illnesses are due a financial windfall with refunds of almost €100, the Irish Independent has learnt.
They are also to be spared from paying any prescription fees for their medicines from now on, saving them up to €25 a month.
The patients have one of 16 listed medical conditions – which would normally qualify them for the Long Term Illness scheme, which provides medication free of any prescription charge.
However, until recently, any of this group who happened to have a medical card lost out because they received their medication under that scheme instead.
This meant that they were forced to pay prescription item charges, which have risen from 50c to €2.50 in recent years.
Junior Health Minister Alex White has now confirmed a decision to end this dual-payment system has been made and the prescription charge for those with these illnesses who have a medical card no longer applies.
This could mean thousands of people will benefit, as long-term illnesses – such as diabetes, epilepsy, cystic fibrosis, multiple sclerosis, haemophilia, cerebral palsy, Parkinson's and spina bifida – may affect many people in the population, and there has been a sharp rise in the numbers in receipt of medical cards in recent years.
The Health Service Executive (HSE) intends to pay refunds to people who had been paying the prescription charges and it is expected to be backdated to between July and December of last year.
It means that anyone who paid the maximum fees every month in prescription charges will be due nearly €100 in back money.
Mr White, who disclosed the changes in a parliamentary reply to Fianna Fail TD Willie O'Dea, pointed out that people who qualify for the Long Term Illness scheme normally get free drugs without any prescription charge.
"In the case of people who had both the medical card and a Long Term Illness book, it was HSE policy that they should use their medical card to access medicines.
"The main reason for this was that when a retail mark-up of 20pc was payable to pharmacists for items supplied under the Long Term Illness scheme, it cost the HSE considerably more to supply medicines under this scheme than under the medical card scheme," he said.
Following a review of the rates of fees payable to pharmacists, it was announced on July 2 that the retail mark-up would be eliminated.
As a result, the HSE has now decided to revise its policy and people who who have both a medical card and Long Term Illness card no longer have to pay the fee.
A spokeswoman for the HSE told the Irish Independent that it was still unaware of the numbers involved.
It is in the process of identifying any person who paid prescription charges in these circumstances and is making arrangements so that the relevant charges can be refunded in full.
She added: "No action is required by those medical card holders who paid these prescription charges.
"It is planned that this work will be completed before the end of June."