Over 60s face paying for prescriptions in NHS change – who can get them for free?

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NHS explain what a Prescription Prepayment Certificate is

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State Pension age could be aligned with the upper age for NHS prescription charge exemptions, the Government has stated in radical new proposals which would see a change for entitlement. At present, those who are 60 and over are just one of the groups where a prescription can be secured without a cost. This can be helpful particularly to people in retirement who may have a limited source of income. The Government states in England, out of 1.1 billion items which were dispensed in 2018, almost 90 percent dispensed in the community in England were free of charge.

Some 63 percent were dispensed free of charge due to the fact the patient was recorded as aged 60 or over. In 2019, though, approximately £600 million was generated in revenue from prescription charges which supported “direct delivery of NHS services”.

While historically the exemption age for prescriptions was 65 and over, it was extended to women aged 60 and over in 1974, and then to men of the same age in 1995.

However, a new consultation is seeking opinions on uprating the free prescription age so it aligns with the state pension age. The state pension age is rising which means, over time, Britons may have to wait even longer to unlock this entitlement.

There has been a level of furore over the proposal, with some older people hitting back at the idea of having to meet a cost for their prescriptions.

Indeed, some experts have also debated the potential move, questioning the reasoning behind the decision.

Thorrun Govind, Royal Pharmaceutical Society English Pharmacy Board Chair, said: “The proposal to raise the age at which people can access free prescriptions from 60 to 66 means that many more people will be affected by this tax on the sick at exactly the time at which they may be needing more medicines.

“It is unacceptable to raise the cost of prescriptions in the current economic situation when many have been disadvantaged by the pandemic. Such proposals will only further drive the health inequalities that have been highlighted by COVID-19. RPS would like to see the complete abolishment of prescription charges in England, whatever the age group, as is the case in Scotland and Wales.”

There are, however, certain individuals who will still be able to secure a free prescription, even if these changes go ahead – so it is worth paying attention to see if one will fall into any of these groups.

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Firstly, people will be entitled to free prescriptions if they or their partner are in receipt of certain benefits, which include:

  • Income Support
  • Income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance
  • Income-related Employment and Support Allowance
  • Pension Credit (Guarantee Credit)
  • Universal Credit and meet the criteria

Individuals who are entitled to, or named on, a valid NHS tax credit exemption certificate will qualify if they get Child Tax Credits, Working Tax Credits with a disability element, and have income for tax credit purposes of £15,276 or less.

Also eligible for a free prescription are people who have a valid NHS prescription for full help with health costs, known as HC2.

People will be able to get a free prescription if they have a specified medical condition and also have a valid medical exemption certificate – known as MedEx.

Those with a continuing physical disability which prevents them going out without help from another person can get free prescriptions, as long as they have a valid medical exemption certificate.

Finally, people with certain medical conditions can get free prescriptions, according to the NHS website. These people should have credit-card-sized cards which are medical exemption certificates.

These can be issued for conditions such as cancer, a permanent fistula, diabetes insipidus or mellitus, epilepsy, hypoparathyroidism, myasthenia gravis and more. 

Thankfully, there is a simple way for Britons to find out whether or not they are eligible for a free NHS prescription, as well as assistance with other NHS costs.

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This is available through the NHS’ official eligibility checker, which is available online. The service should take about three minutes to check and can be completed by filling in a number of sections with relevant information. 

When the announcement of the consultation was made, 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.” 

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