Budget plan to slash €5 from monthly cost of prescriptions
Unpopular prescription charges for medical card holders are set to be slashed in the upcoming Budget - bringing the maximum monthly cost down by as much as €5.
The monthly cost is expected to be capped at €20, along with a cut of up to 50c in the €2.50 levy which is charged on every prescription item.
The prescription charge, which is currently forcing medical card holders to pay more than €120m in prescription fees annually, is to be gradually phased out in the lifetime of the Government.
Pensioners, who may be on several medications, are particularly hit by the charges and find the cost quickly mounts to the current maximum of €25 a month.
The extent of the cut is being finalised but Health Minister Simon Harris is expected to announce the reduction in October. The last government promised to abolish the charge - but ultimately ended up making it even more harsh.
A reduction in the charge was promised by Fine Gael in its pre-election manifesto, which said it would bring down the monthly cap to €17.50.
Fianna Fáil pledged it would abolish the charge.
Age Action, which has campaigned for the removal of the charges affecting 1.7 million card holders, said they were "a tax on being sick, a tax that has gone up 500pc since it was introduced in 2009".
Spokesman Justin Moran warned: "It hits older people particularly hard because 31pc of over-65s have five or more prescriptions, rising to 36pc for the over-75s. We have reports of older people playing roulette with their prescriptions, working out which they will skip this month because they cannot afford them all."
The Irish Independent has also learned that approval has been given for the appointment of 83 new speech and language therapists to address the crisis in waiting lists.
The most recent figures show 14,047 people were waiting for a first assessment in March, up from 13,545 in June of last year.
The minister has told the HSE it can appoint 83 new speech and language therapists for children and teenagers.
A spokeswoman for the minister said all the waiting lists - including initial assessments and therapies - will be addressed "by prioritising the longest-waiting children".
The aim is that no one will be waiting for more than eight months.
The proposed measures come as Mr Harris is under pressure to secure a substantial rise in the €13.2bn given to the health service in last year's Budget.
He has already been promised €50m in funding to tackle hospital waiting lists, with a large slice of this having to be paid to private hospitals as operations and outpatients are outsourced.
However, the scale of patient suffering on the list emerged in new figures yesterday, which showed waiting lists reached a record of 530,000.
There were 435,000 people waiting for an outpatient appointment in August - up 5,000 on July.
Another 78,500 are in the queue for surgery with 8,000 enduring delays of more than 15 months.
The underlying trends overall show that long-waiters - the numbers in the queue for at least 15 months - are on the rise.
The numbers in the waiting list for diagnostic endoscopy procedures went down to 18,000, a drop of 1,500 following an outsourcing initiative.
Fianna Fáil health spokesman Billy Kelleher reacted with outrage, warning: "Targets on waiting times have been consistently missed, even after they were widened.
"An 18-month target set for June 2015 has again been missed and 4,143 people are now waiting more than a year-and-a-half for treatment."
Timeline: Budget 2017
- The deadline for departments to submit their spending plans to Public Expenditure Minister Paschal Donohoe. Mr Donohoe has asked for three-year spending plans from all ministers.
- The Independent Alliance meets to discuss their Budget demands.
- With just over four weeks to go until the Budget, the first formal bilateral meetings between Mr Donohoe, Finance Minister Michael Noonan and their ministerial colleagues officially begin.
- Fianna Fáil are also due to hold their own talks with ministers.
- Mr Donohoe and Mr Noonan meet with interest groups, business organisations, charities and other stakeholders to discuss their pre-Budget submissions.
Week beginning Monday, September 19
- The Oireachtas Budget Oversight Committee discusses the Budget with ministers.
- Ministers hold a key Budget Cabinet meeting as Dáil formally resumes following the summer recess.
- Mr Donohoe and Mr Noonan conclude meetings with ministers as they finalise their tax and spending plans.
October 11 Budget Day