Martin Lewis offers advice on NHS prescriptions
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The Government is considering aligning the “freebie” benefit with the state pension age in a bid to save money. Currently, the state pension age is 66 but people are able to claim free prescriptions once they turn 60. If this change is implemented, those who would otherwise have been eligible for this support will have to wait longer, although those already getting the benefit may be protected under one option.
As it stands, prescription charges in England are £9.35 per item. However, many people claim multiple prescriptions which hike up their outgoings every time they visit the pharmacist.
On top of this, residents in Scotland and Wales are able to claim their medication for free no matter what age they are, which has been criticised as unfair by many due to those in England having to pay.
These potential changes to free prescriptions, and inequity in how the benefit is handled across the UK, could arrive at the same time as the rise in the cost of living.
Households are dealing with an increase in energy bills and inflation which is hurting their ability to pay expenses, including prescription charges.
On its website, the Government explained the various options it is considering when it comes to aligning free prescription eligibility with the state pension age.
While Option A is to just raise the qualifying age to state pension age for everyone, while the alternative option being considered is to have a “period of reflection” to allow people in their 60s to continue getting free prescriptions.
The Government stated: “Option B is to raise the qualifying age for free prescriptions to the SPA (currently 66) but with a period of protection, which would mean that people in the age range 60 to 65 would continue to receive free prescriptions.
“This would mean that anyone aged 60 and over when the changes to the charges regulations are implemented would continue to be exempt from prescription charges.
“Whereas those aged 59 and under when the changes to the Charges Regulations are implemented would have to pay for their prescriptions until they reach the SPA (currently 66), unless they qualified for another exemption.
“The above options would have varying impacts for people who need NHS prescriptions, and could raise additional revenue for the NHS.
On the potential consequences of the policy change, the Government said: “Option A would increase NHS revenue more quickly and by a larger amount than option B.
“But retaining a period of protection for those currently in the age group 60 to 65 (option B) could ensure that people have advance notice of a change and would not have to restart paying for prescriptions that they currently get free.”
Specifically, the Government believes Option A could lead to “confusion” about the rules regarding prescriptions.
For example, people could still be claiming free medication by mistake and end up receiving penalty noises, as well as charges, as a result.
Furthermore, the first option may result in those on low incomes opting to miss out on their prescriptions due to the sudden charge being imposed on them.
Analysis of the policy change found that a grace period for over 60s when hiking the eligibility age for free prescriptions would allow the Government to monitor the negative impact of it.
Various experts have come out against the Government exploring an increase to the eligibility age threshold for free prescriptions. Many have cited how aligning access to this benefit with the state pension will detrimentally affect those with less money.
Professor Martin Marshall, Chair of Council of Royal College of General Practitioners, explained: “Introducing an additional cost for over 60s managing long term health conditions will, albeit unintentionally, disproportionately affect a large group of patients who are on low incomes but just above the threshold for financial help with the costs of their medication.
“Many patients are already waiting longer for treatment or will have seen their health deteriorate as a result of the challenges of the last 18 months.
“This change will discourage patients who are financially less well-off from managing their health proactively, and could mean that they present to general practice when their problems are far worse and at a time when general practice is already at breaking point.”
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “Around 90 percent of community prescription items in England are free of charge, and people don’t pay if they are on a low income, over 60 years old, or have certain medical conditions.
“The upper age exemption has not changed since 1995 and that is why we have consulted on restoring the link with the state pension age. We are considering the responses carefully and will respond in due course.”
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