In the UK, the state pension age is 66, and anyone can claim free prescription in England once they turn 60. However, if the change is implemented, the Government plan to align the free prescription age and state pension age.
This means that Britons would not be able to claim free prescriptions until they are 66 leaving many people waiting years longer. It should be noted that all prescriptions in Scotland and Wales will remain free, as this change will only affect England.
The state pension age is set to rise even higher meaning younger Britons could have to wait until they’re 67 or 68 to claim free prescriptions.
Currently prescription charges in England are £9.35 per item but many have to claim multiple prescriptions.
As a result of this, many older people are having to spend hundreds of pounds a year to pay for medication to mitigate their health condition.
As the cost of living crisis continues, any changes to the state pension age could leave older Britons struggling to keep up with rising bills and food.
The Government has set its sights on removing this free benefit from people aged between 60 and 66, as Health Secretary Sajid Javid has proposed only two options – both of which would permanently remove the benefit for this age group.
The two options presented by the Department of Health in a public consultation focus on the implementation of this change.
Option A would raise the free prescription age immediately to 66, while Option B would only introduce this for new over 60s.
In its plans, the Government state: “Option B is to raise the qualifying age for free prescriptions to the state pension age (currently 66) but with a period of protection, which would mean that people in the age range 60 to 65 would continue to receive free prescriptions.
“This would mean that anyone aged 60 and over when the changes to the charges regulations are implemented would continue to be exempt from prescription charges.
“Whereas those aged 59 and under when the changes to the Charges Regulations are implemented would have to pay for their prescriptions until they reach the SPA (currently 66), unless they qualified for another exemption.
“The above options would have varying impacts for people who need NHS prescriptions, and could raise additional revenue for the NHS.”
Caroline Abrahams, Age UK’s charity director, noted that the proposal to hike free prescription eligibility to the state pension age is an “unfair” one.
The expert explained: “This policy proposal seems all the more unfair because prescriptions are free for everyone in Scotland and Wales.
“There’s a strong public health case for heading in that direction here in England too.
“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 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.”
While these changes will see millions more people paying for their prescriptions, many who are eligible for free prescriptions are not claiming them.
Britons can find out if they’re eligible for free NHS prescriptions and any help with other NHS costs by using the eligibility checker on the NHS website.
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “Around 90 percent of community prescription items in England are free of charge, and people don’t pay if they are on a low income, over 60 years old, or have certain medical conditions.
“The upper age exemption has not changed since 1995 and that is why we have consulted on restoring the link with the state pension age.
“We are considering the responses carefully and will respond in due course.”