Social Democrats propose free medicines for those over 70


The Social Democrat MP Zdenek Skromach recently came up with the idea of providing medicines free of charge to everyone over 70. There's been a mixed reaction to the proposal - it's been backed by the Health Minister but criticised by the opposition as mere pre-election campaigning. Alena Skodova has more.

The Health Minister Bohumil Fiser says he supports the proposal, as a minister as well as a doctor. Mr Fiser explained that the limit of 70 years had been chosen because people over 70 were most often ill, and they usually suffer from more illnesses at one time and take different medicines to treat each one. He says the new regulation could save a pensioner as much as a month's pension a year.

Opposition MPs, however, have voiced their strong criticism, saying the move is just a pre-election trick by the ruling party. According to Vaclav Krasa from the right-wing Freedom Union, such a system could be misused. He says a whole family could have their medicines prescribed for free in the name of their grandmother. Milan Kubek, chairman of the doctors' professional organisation, the Union of Czech Doctors, explained that such a system had been applied for some time in Hungary and it ended up in children being prescribed for medicines to treat prostate illnesses.

I spoke to Dr. Frantisek Kolbel, who represents the Czech Republic in the European commission of the World Health Organisation. He says the proposal is an interesting idea, which, however, needs to be further elaborated:

"First of all, I think that it should be more clearly specified which elderly people will qualify for this support. Because elderly people do not form a homogeneous group of individuals with respect to their incomes or social status. For those elderly people who are poor, who are living at the poverty line, there should be some sort of support so they can have access to remedies that are sometimes very expensive."

But Dr. Kolbel also sees one big risk that might occur:

"The risk is overuse of the remedies that would be offered for free without any selection. The psychology of many people in this population is similar to the psychology of people in the whole world- which means they believe that whatever is for free has no value. This belief could result in overuse and wasting of remedies. I think it is an interesting proposal, but it should be worked out in more detail."

That was Dr Frantisek Kolbel, who represents the Czech Republic in the European commission of the World Health Organisation, on proposals for free medicines for the over 70s.