Millions of over 60s face paying for NHS prescriptions – but some could get them free

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Plans by the Department for Health and Social Care to make over 60s pay for their prescriptions have caused uproar with protestors claiming that it’s a “tax on the sick” and detrimental to the health of those who have worked hard all their lives. It will mean up to 2.4 million people losing access to free healthcare just when they need it most, yet some over 60s could avoid paying for their prescriptions altogether.

Lots of UK residents are exempt from paying for NHS prescriptions but if people are aged over 60 they might be exempt because they:

  • Have a specified medical condition and a valid medical exemption certificate
  • Suffer from a continuing physical disability with a valid medical exemption certificate (MedEx)
  • Hold a valid war pension exemption certificate and have been issued with a MedEx

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Pensioners’ financial future is looking bleak (Image: Getty)

For those whose health isn’t affected, it’s worth checking if being on a low income makes them exempt from paying prescription charges.

Those receiving Income Support, Jobseekers Allowance, Employment and Support Allowance, Pension Credit Guarantee Credit and Universal Credit are usually exempt from paying the £9.35 per item medication charge and should have been sent an exemption card.

Free prescriptions are also available to those under 16, people who are 16 to 18 who are still in education, and pregnant mothers who have given birth in the last 12 months.

If in doubt, it’s worth checking the NHS website or asking your GP, or the doctor’s receptionist, at your next appointment.

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Campaigners including Age UK have written to the health secretary demanding that he drops the proposals to raise the age of those receiving free prescriptions.

Instead of saving the NHS £257million a year they say it will place an added burden on the NHS and have a detrimental effect on the health and pockets of the over 60s.

Older people could be forgiven if they felt unnecessarily targeted by the chancellor – many pensioners are being told they now have to fork out £159 for a TV licence after 20 years of it being free for generations before them.

Add to this concerns that the Treasury will end the triple lock, which guarantees the state pension rises by a minimum of 2.5 percent, the rate of inflation or average earnings growth, and the financial future for pensioners looks bleak.

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Professor Martin Marshall, chairman of the Royal College of General Practitioners, is campaigning for the proposal to be dropped because he says it will target those people on a low income who are just above the poverty line.

He said: “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.

“Many patients are already waiting longer for treatment or will have seen their health deteriorate as a result of the challenges of the past 18 months.

“This change will discourage patients who are financially less well-off from managing their health and could mean they present to general practice when their problems are far worse.”

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Currently, people aged 60 and over are entitled to free NHS prescriptions in England – but if they had to pay it would be £9.35 per item – so it’s easy to see how these costs could add up over a period of time.

If people do have to pay for their medication, it’s worth considering a quarterly prescription prepayment certificate which is £30.25 or £108.10 for 12 months, as this could save them a lot of money.

The consultation on whether prescriptions should be payable up to the state pension age of 66 closes today, but the government says those aged between 60 and 65 are more economically active than generations before them.

Government health officials say it will save the NHS £257million a year but charity Parkinson’s UK said ending free prescriptions for 60 to 65s would cost the NHS an extra £8.5million in avoidable admissions of patients with the degenerative condition.

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson told Express.co.uk: “The age people get free prescriptions in England has not changed since 1974 for women, and 1995 for men so we are consulting on aligning the upper age exemption from prescription charges with the state pension age.

“We continue to protect the most vulnerable and support is available for those on a low income and those on certain benefits.

“Almost 90 percent of prescription items dispensed in the community in England in 2019 were free of charge, and there are other exemptions in place for certain medical conditions and expectant or new mothers.”

Roy Walsh

Roy Walsh

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