Prescription charge to be slashed again in boost for elderly and medical card holders
The Government looks set to reduce the cost of the highly unpopular €2 prescription charge for 1.6 million medical card holders in the Budget.
The extent of the cut could be in the region of 50c, in line with recent budgets.
It is part of a promise to phase out the levy which has led to some elderly people having to ration medicines.
A 50c reduction would mean the charge would be €1.50 per prescription item, with a cap of €15 a month.
The phasing out began in the 2017 Budget. Fianna Fáil had insisted on a cut but talks came down to the wire.
It led to the €2.50 prescription charge being reduced to €2 for the over-70s. The cut was extended to all age groups this year.
The proceeds from the charge have become an important source of income for the HSE and it brings in around €120m a year.
Fianna Fáil is understood to be pressing for another reduction, pointing out the charge was increased five-fold by the previous government despite a promise to abolish it.
The increase was justified at the time because of the recession and the demands on the State finances.
It has meant that many people who are on the lowest of incomes have contributed more than half-a-billion euro since the prescription charge was introduced in 2011.
The pressure on Health Minister Simon Harris to cut the charge comes as the number of people covered by medical cards has also fallen.
This is mainly due to a reduction in people qualifying on income grounds after returning to employment.
During the recession a record 1.8 million people were covered by a medical card, around 40pc of the population. However, this has now dropped to 1.6 million and it is expected to fall even further.
At the same time the number of people with GP visit cards has risen.