Martin Lewis: How to save money on NHS prescriptions
Ever since making this threat, there has been a deafening silence. Why is it keeping millions in suspense?
It’s now two years since the Government proposed scrapping free NHS prescriptions for the over 60s.
The 2021 announcement spread fear among those suffering from multiple chronic conditions who currently get their medication for free.
A public consultation document from the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) clearly sets out its intentions, warning: “Anyone aged 60 and older can get free prescriptions for medicine. We are thinking about changing this.”
At Express.co.uk, we know this is a major point of concern for our readers. Articles on the subject get a huge response, with readers repeatedly warning that it will pile on yet more hardship amid the cost-of-living crisis.
Many over 60s have to make tough choices between eating and heating, They don’t want to worry about whether they can afford their medicine, too.
Yet that’s the threat hanging over them.
Every year, prescription charges increase on April 1. Last year was an exception, when they were frozen to help Britons with rising inflation.
At the start of this month they increased by 3.21 percent, lifting the price by 30p from £9.35 to £9.65.
The cost of Prescription Prepayment Certificates (PPCs), which buy three months or 12 months of prescriptions, rose to £31.23 and £111.60 respectively.
Yet there was no word about changing the qualifying age for free prescriptions.
Every year, in the run-up to April 1, we wait to see whether the DHSC will make its intentions clear.
The move would save the NHS around £300million a year, which the Government claims it will divert to frontline resources.
I want to make it absolutely clear that pensioners do not need to worry. Nobody is proposing to make them pay for NHS prescriptions.
Such a move would spark uproar.
The proposals would see people being charged for prescriptions from 60, all the way through to their 66th birthday.
Or their 67th birthday from 2026, when the state pension age starts rising again.
The Government has argued that many people in their early 60s remain in employment and can therefore afford to pay.
It says that around 90 percent of prescriptons in England are free, and people don’t pay if they are on a low income or have certain medical conditions.
It adds that the upper age exemption has not changed since 1995, while the state pension age has increased.
Yet it would still be hugely controversial, especially as NHS prescriptions are free for everybody in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
The NHS has set out two options for the change.
Idea 1 sees those aged between 60 and 65 having to pay for the prescriptions as soon as the rules change.
Under Idea 2, those now aged from 60 to 65 would carry on getting free prescriptions, but those aged 59 and younger would pay from age 60.
It states that: “When we have chosen which idea to use, we will pick a start date.”
This suggests that they change will definitely be made. The only questions are how it will be done and when the over-60s will start paying.
My best guess is that the government is keeping its head down. Rishi Sunak could be going to the polls as soon as next spring. He won’t want to launch his campaign having just increased NHS prescription charges for millions.
It will be an open goal for Labour leader Keir Starmer.
The same applies to the triple lock. Everybody knows the Treasury would like to scrap it, because of the cost involved.
Yet millions of pensioners will never forgive the government that does it, and Sunak knows that.
No way will charges be introduced from April 1 next year, just weeks or months before a possible election. There have been hints and leaks to this effect, but nothing concrete.
No news is good news, they say. Every year the government delays a decision, is another year when the over 60s get their prescriptions for free.
So perhaps I shouldn’t be pushing this. Maybe I should keep my head down too, just like the government.
Yet it would be a huge relif if Ministers could publicly ditch this proposal, and spare a lot of people a lot of worry.
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