NHS support explained – retirees face skyrocketing costs as free prescriptions may be cut

NHS prescriptions are currently free for those aged 60 and over but in September, the Department of Health & Social Care closed a consultation on aligning the prescription charge exemptions with the state pension age. This would force most people to wait until their 66th birthday to receive free prescriptions, costing them hundreds of pounds in the process.

Prescription use and costs

As the consultation drew to a close, the Government laid out that out of over one billion prescription items dispensed in 2019, close to 90 percent were dispensed free of charge. Two thirds of all items were exempt because the patient was aged 60 years or older. Additionally, data from NHS BSA showed 95 percent of 60 to 65-year olds use at least one prescription per year.

While prescription use varies, those with higher levels of use are more likely to take out a Prescription Prepayment Certificate (PPC) in order to cap the cost. A PPC lets people get as many NHS prescriptions as they need for a set price of £108.10 over 12 months or £30.25 over three months. Approximately half of the 60 and over cohort used more than 12 items per year and therefore are defined as high users.

With this data in mind, the Department of Health & Social Care broke down assumed future prescription use and costs faced by 60 to 65-year olds who would need to pay for prescriptions under the new proposals.

Its research showed the average cost per year would range between £108.10 and £130.90 for people who currently get prescriptions for free.

READ MORE: Rishi Sunak’s 55% ‘nightmare’ pensions tax trap – who pays, who won’t

It should be noted, based on NHS BSA prescribing data, the Department of Health & Social Care estimated 38 percent of people in the 60 to 65 age group would qualify for another exemption with the majority of these being a medical exemption. This means that the costs quoted are likely to be an overestimate because people who retain a medical or income-related exemption are likely to use more prescriptions.

Currently, prescription charges generate approximately £600million in revenue for the English NHS each year. The Government explained an increase to the upper age exemption could generate additional revenue for NHS frontline services.

The specific amount would depend on various factors including:

  • Volumes of prescription use
  • The number of people who would retain an exemption on other grounds such as a medical exemption or income related exemptions
  • The cost of prescriptions – the single charge is currently £9.35 per prescription item and an annual PPC costs £108.10 for a year covering an unlimited number of prescription items.

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State support

While the Government’s research showed the extra costs may be limited to £130.90 per year, recent analysis from NiceRx showed the costs may in fact be much higher. According to the company’s findings, pharmaceutical spending in the UK is now the 19th highest in the world and Britons are spending around £383 a year on medication – a 12.56 percent increase since 2018.

Despite these dire results, it should be remembered that free prescriptions are offered to Britons on particularly low incomes and/or in receipt of certain benefits.

The NHS explains people will be entitled to free prescriptions if they or their partner receive, or are under the age of 20 and the dependant of someone receiving Income Support, income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance, income-related Employment and Support Allowance or Pension Credit. Universal Credit claimants may also get free prescriptions if they meet specific criteria.

Additionally, those in receipt of a valid NHS tax credit exemption certificate will not have to pay for their prescriptions. Claimants will qualify for this certificate if they get Child Tax Credits, Working Tax Credits with a disability element (or both), and have income for tax credit purposes of £15,276 or less.

Express.co.uk readers react

Following coverage of this issue, Express.co.uk readers voiced their opinions on the proposals. One reader, Peter Keen, said: “To the wealthy and that includes all the nation’s decision makers, prescription charges are not a significant expense

“Therefore, they don’t understand the hardship this will cause. Putting the House of Commons and Lords on the state pension for six months with no access to their wealth would give them a needed wake up call.”

Others noted the plan adds further hardship to taxpayers who, in their opinion, have already been hit unfairly by existing legislation. Bikersmoll said: “Hang on a minute. Why are England paying when the Scots get theirs free? We are paying for them too it seems.”

Another user added: “I am already penalised by this Government as I’m one of the 50s women who lost six years of pension and also the bus pass.”

However, while many were disappointed with the plans, some expressed support for the Government’s cost-cutting measures.

Bob Upndown commented: “If you are still working and have the money you should pay for your prescription.

“The fact you’re over 60 no longer means you are a pensioner therefore free prescription should only be given to those in financial need and those who are on state pension.”

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