Current over 60s could be facing overwhelming costs in the run up to retirement if the proposed free prescription age change is enacted without transitional arrangements. Campaigns have been launched to save the free prescriptions while many fear they may have to compromise their standard of living and retirement savings to keep up with the costs.
Currently, NHS prescriptions are offered free of charge to those aged over 60.
However, a new policy could see this age increased to 66, creating a six year funding gap that many approaching that age have not planned for.
Additionally, the current lack of transitional arrangements could also see those currently between the ages of 60 to 66 losing their free prescriptions overnight.
There are concerns that enacting this policy change could worsen the health inequalities for those on different income levels.
Age UK, the current leading charity offering assistance to elderly Brits, shared concerns that this change could have a devastating impact on the health of affected individuals as they may not be able to afford the medication they need.
Statistically speaking, the ages that will be directly affected already come with a higher likelihood of individuals living with one or more long term conditions.
This means individuals paying for prescriptions will be needing more than one type of medication and could be an untimely cost for those struggling to meet their own basic living costs or hoping to put every penny into their retirement fund while they still can.
The Government’s response to these concerns has been slightly underwhelming as they suggest pre-payment certificates as a way for the elderly to mitigate these costs.
While it may seem like a viable option, pre-payment certificates cost on average £100 per year and it requires either up-front payment or a direct debit, which may still not be enough to make necessary medications affordable.
Essentially, pre-payment certificates helps cover the costs for those who need multiple chronic prescription medications.
It does not help to cover the added costs of short or unexpected bouts of illness, which many in the affected age group faces.
Age UK also noted that the policy change could see many elderly people panic buying pre-payment certificates which may end up costing them more than their normal medication bill.
Caroline Abrahams, Age UK’s charity director commented on the situation saying it is a “kick in the teeth” not just for the elderly but for the NHS who will need to deal with the consequences of those that do not seek timely medical treatment for fear of not being able to afford their medications.
She added: “If someone in this age group decides their best option is to buy a Pre Payment Certificate every year it would cost them more than £600 in their run up to retirement, so from that point of view this really is a stealth tax on older people.
“However, it’s also clear that some could end up paying a lot more than that, because awareness of these Certificates is quite low, and that others could buy one and then find they would have been better off without it. This seems really unfair.”
Pre-payment certificates are usually ideal for ‘high users’ or those with 12 or more prescriptions needed per year, however, Age UK found that 27 percent of high users aged 55 to 59 are not using it.
Ms Abrahams noted that there have been reports from older people who take multiple medications saying “they will have to choose which ones to drop” or that they will be rationing the medication below their prescribed dosage.
“The problem is that treatments don’t work like that: if the prescribed dosage says one tablet every day it may not work at all if you only take it every two or three days.”
Aside from the additional charges that may be unaffordable for many, the reaction to the potential policy change has been worsened as it will not affect Scotland or Wales.
Prescriptions in Scotland and Wales are free for everyone and there is a strong public interest in England following suit, although this has not been reflected by Government decisions.
Ms Abrahams commented: “Instead, our government wants to do the opposite: make many more people pay for their medicines, and at an age when it’s all the more important they take them, to control conditions that if left untreated can lead to really serious medical problems, piling more pressure onto the NHS. If ever there was a self-defeating policy this is it, and we know that many medical experts agree with us.”