The over 60s have been eligible free NHS prescriptions for more than 25 years, but that could end under Government proposals. This has generated a furious backlash from campaigners who warn older people could face “devastating” health challenges as a result. But some over 60s may still avoid a charge. Are you one of them?
Starting the over 60s for their prescriptions could generate up to £300million a year for the NHS by 2026 to 2027, but Age UK said it would be a “kick in the teeth both for poorly older people and the NHS”.
Charity director Caroline Abrahams said it would discourage many with long-term conditions from getting a diagnosis and sticking to their prescribed medication.
The controversial move will only raise a “tiny fraction” of the NHS’s £212billion budget. “It will be self-defeating for the Treasury if it leads to higher NHS treatment costs,” Abrahams said.
Laura Cockram, chair of the Prescription Charges Coalition, said the move will be unaffordable for many. “Far from saving the NHS money, this proposal is likely to cost more and do lasting damage to the nation’s health.”
There are three ways the over 60s could either escape prescription charges, or reduce the cost.
First, check whether you will continue to be eligible for free prescriptions on financial grounds. You may continue to qualify if you or your partner are on a low income and receive the following state benefits: Income Support; Income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance; Income-related Employment and Support Allowance; Pension Credit (Guarantee Credit) or Universal Credit.
You may also qualify if you are entitled to, or named on, a valid NHS tax credit exemption certificate and are eligible for Tax Credits, Working Tax Credits with a disability element, and have income for tax credit purposes of £15,276 or less.
Those who have valid NHS certificate for full help with health costs (HC2) may also get free prescriptions. People named on an NHS certificate for partial help with health costs (HC3) may also get help.
You can also seek help under the NHS Low Income Scheme.
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Second, people with certain medical problems are eligible for free NHS prescriptions at any age, so check if this rule applies to you. Do you qualify for a medical exemption certificate?
These are issued if you have serious illnesses such as cancer, a permanent fistula, a form of hypoadrenalism such as Addison’s disease, diabetes, hypoparathyroidism, myasthenia gravis, myxoedema and epilepsy requiring continuous anticonvulsive therapy.
You may also get a medical exemption certificates if you have a continuing physical disability that means you cannot go out without the help of another person. However, temporary disabilities do not count, even if they last for several months.
Those who hold a valid war pension exemption certificate, where the prescription is for an accepted disability, may also qualify for free prescriptions.
All NHS inpatients get free prescriptions.
Check Government website Gov.uk for further information.
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Finally, if you do have to pay prescriptions, you could cap the expense by purchasing a Prescription Pre-payment Certificate (PPC).
This costs £30.25 for three months or £108.10 for a whole year. Buying the PPC would start to pay for itself once you had 12 prescriptions in a year.
However, some could struggle to afford the PPC and awareness is low, campaigners say.
Many will see prescription charges as another health tax, coming on top of the new health and social care National Insurance levy, and Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s move to freeze tax allowances until 2026 in his March Budget.
However, the Department of Health and Social Care defended the proposal saying that “blanket exemptions for people aged 60 and over are no longer appropriate”, as many are working and can afford to pay.
Its research shows that around 60 per cent of people aged between 60 and 65 are “still economically active and potentially able to meet the cost of their prescriptions”.
We are now waiting to see if the Government will scrap free prescriptions for the over 60s. Its answer is promised “in due course”.