The unpopular prescription charge for medical card holders will not be abolished in the upcoming Budget after it was revealed it had brought in more than €300m since 2011.
However, there will be no increase on its current rate of €2.50 per item, a spokesman for Health Minister Leo Varadkar has insisted,
The extent to which the HSE has become dependent on income from the charge was revealed in new figures released to Fianna Fáil finance spokesman Michael McGrath.
The Fianna Fáil-led government introduced the charge at 50c per item to cut down on needless use of medicines. But former Health Minister James Reilly pledged to abolish it before the last 2011 general election, saying it was deterring people from taking their medicine.
However, Deputy McGrath (below) pointed out: "The charge has been increased by 200pc since 2011. Just over 18 months later, Minister Reilly performed a spectacular U-turn, trebling the 50c prescription charge to €1.50.
"In Budget 2014 he compounded his hypocrisy by adding another €1 to the charge."
A spokesman for Mr Varadkar said the prescription charge had not been increased in 2015 and there were no proposals to increase it in 2016.
"Given the large amount of money that the charge brings in which goes straight to the health service, it is unlikely that we will be able to abolish it without making cuts to services," he told the Irish Independent.
Fianna Fáil promised yesterday that it would embark on a "phased abolition" of the charge but did not say where it would find alternative funding for the HSE.
Mr McGrath insisted there is "no justification" for the charge - a U-turn from Fianna Fáil's initial charge.
"Healthcare professionals have consistently described the charges as short-sighted, potentially resulting in more people having to be hospitalised when this could have been avoided through primary care," he continued.
"This ultimately only increases the cost of healthcare for the State.
"The Government claims it is seeking to help low- and middle-income families.
"However, medical card holders, who are by their nature some of the most disadvantaged in society, are paying up to €25 a month for vital medicines. There is no justification for this charge."
Age Action Ireland has called for the charge to be reduced to €1.50 to ease the burden it causes to the elderly.