Wednesday, 24 April 2002
Dáil Eireann Debate
39. Mr. Coveney asked the Minister for Health and Children if he will make a statement on the refunds which are to be paid to those who paid £42 for prescription charges when £32 was the amount they should have paid. [12584/02]
Minister for Health and Children (Mr. Martin): The drugs payment scheme, DPS, introduced on 1 July 1999, essentially amalgamated the existing drug cost subsidisation, DCSS, and drugs refund schemes, DRS, and provided that families would only have to meet the first €53.33 or £42 per month of spending on approved prescribed medicines. The threshold for the DCSS scheme was €40.63 or £32 per month per individual, and €114.28 or £90 per quarter for each eligible person and dependants for the DRS. Under the DRS, the person had to pay for the drugs at the pharmacy, and claim a refund from the health board at the end of the quarter.
The new scheme was designed to bring about important improvements over the previous schemes, to be more user friendly and to significantly improve the cash flow situation for families and individuals incurring ongoing expenditure on medicines. The DPS was also designed to iron out anomalies whereby, for example, a person or family spending €101.58 or £80 in one month on medicines and no expenditure for the remainder  of the quarter would not be entitled to a refund. Under the DPS, families are able to budget for the cost of prescribed medicines. Regardless of the cost of their prescribed medicines, families are liable only for a maximum of €53.33 or £42 in any month. A further advantage is that applicants are not required to pay and then claim a refund as in the previous schemes. In addition, there are no qualifying criteria for the DPS, unlike the DCSS where a person needed a doctor's certificate and to be approved by a health board as having a long-term medical condition requiring regular and continuous prescribed drugs in excess of €40.63 or £32 per month.
The financial benefits of the DPS are reflected in the significantly increased spending level over the schemes it replaced. The total cost of the DRS and the DCSS in 1998 was £74.69 million, the last full year of operation. In contrast, the DPS cost £110 million in 2000, the first full year of operation, and rose to £140 million in 2001. The aggregate benefits of the new scheme are clearly significantly greater than the previous schemes.
The DPS was initially introduced on an administrative basis, with the intention that regulations to underpin its operation would be introduced in due course. There were some legal precedents for this. Following further detailed consideration, the regulations were introduced in February 2001, putting the scheme on a statutory basis.
Given that claimants overall derived greater benefit from the new scheme, as reflected in the significant increase in spending on it, the question of possible refunds was not addressed when the regulations were being put in place. This question is now being re-examined and I am awaiting further legal advice from the Office of the Attorney General.
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