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Written Answers. - Drugs Refund Scheme.

Tuesday, 26 November 2002

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 558 No. 1

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 376. Mr. O'Shea Information on Brian O'Shea Zoom on Brian O'Shea  asked the Minister for Health and Children Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin  the proposals he has to refund ?17.3 million due to 175,000 people overcharged for their drugs bill (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [23777/02]

Minister for Health and Children (Mr. Martin): Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin The drug payment scheme, DPS, replaced the drug cost subsidisation, DCSS, and drugs refund, DRS, schemes, and provided that families only have to meet the first €53.33 per month of spending on approved prescribed medicines. The DCSS threshold was €40.63 per month per individual, and for the DRS it was €114.28 a quarter for each eligible person and dependants. Under the DRS, the person paid for medicines at the pharmacy, and claimed a refund from the health board at the end of each quarter.

The aggregate financial benefits for patients under the DPS are clearly significantly greater than the old schemes. The total patient benefit under the DRS and the DCSS in 1998 was €95 million, the last full year of operation. In contrast, the DPS subvention to patients was €140 million in 2000, the first full year of operation, and rose to €178 million in 2001, an increase of 87% in three years.

The DPS was initially introduced on an administrative basis, with the intention that regulations to underpin its operation would be introduced. Regulations fixing the threshold for the new scheme at €53.33 per month could have been made in July 1999 under section 59 of the Health Act, 1970, but, as Government approval had been obtained to amend that section, it was decided to defer making the regulations until the Act was actually amended. At the time it was envisaged that the amending provision would be enacted very quickly. Subsequently, however, difficulties and delays arose in securing drafting time and parliamentary time for the new legislation. Fol[283] lowing further consideration and legal advice obtained from the Attorney General's office in October 2000, regulations to fix the threshold at €53.33 per month were put in place under the existing section 59 of the 1970 Act in February 2001, with the required consent of the Minister for Finance.

As claimants derived greater overall benefits, reflected in the significant increase in spending, the issue of possible refunds was not addressed at that time. My Department has reviewed the position in relation to this question in the meantime, including consideration of legal advice received from the Attorney General's office.

Total estimated refunds are €17.3 million for a potential 175,000 claimants, with a total cost, including administration, of just under €20 million. The value of individual refunds would be between €1 and €250, with most refunds at the lower end of the range. Many claimants would have also received tax relief on these expenses.

The fact that overall the new scheme has delivered a considerable aggregate improvement in supporting individuals and families with drug costs, and the administrative complexity and costs that would arise, my Department does not propose taking any further action on this matter.

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