NATIONAL health authorities want pensioners earning over €18,000 a year before tax to make a higher contribution to their prescription charges – which were free until just over four years ago.
At present, those earning less than €18,000 pay 10% of their prescriptions up to a maximum of €8.26 a month, whilst anyone whose income ranges from €18,001 to €100,000 a year contributes a maximum of 13% per month.
For the working-age population, prescriptions come in at 10% for those on a gross income of €18,000 or less, and an eye-watering 50% for those earning between €18,001 and €100,000, with no cap on costs – up from 10% prior to autumn 2012.
'Pensioners' does not just mean retirees whose earnings come from their State pot, but also covers those earning a permanent disability, widow's or widower's, family support, or orphan's pension, and the average figure across all of these is around €900.50 a month.
For State retirement pensions only, the average monthly figure is €1,038.93, paid over 14 months – a double packet in summer and at Christmas – and those whose annual pension is €18,000 a year will be taking home a monthly figure of €1,286.
Without a mortgage, this is enough for a lone pensioner to live comfortably and a couple, both earning the same, to live very well, but old age means prescriptions go up in quantity and frequency, eating away into the household budget – plus, with the unemployment crisis, numerous retirees are now supporting their children and even grandchildren out of their pension, often having them living in their homes.
Of the 5.78 million in receipt of a State retirement pension in Spain, some 1.6 million earn more than €18,000 a year, although the number whose income is closer to the €100,000 figure is very small indeed and mainly limited to former top-flight politicians and retired company chairs.
Also, for the past three years inclusive, State pensions have only risen by the legal minimum of 0.25%, which includes 2017 – a long way from inflation, currently at 1.5%.
Health minister Dolors Montserrat – appointed in November when the PP government was sworn in again after a 300-day absence – quite rightly pointed out that the spending power of a person earning €18,001 a year is very different to that of someone earning €100,000 a year.
“It's not right that the former should be paying the same for prescriptions as the latter,” she stressed.
But if the idea is for all pensioners within that wide income bracket to pay more for their prescriptions, Sra Montserrat is likely to face a blockade from the opposition, which is in a majority.
After hinting strongly that this would be the case in an interview on the Catalunya station Ràdio 4, Montserrat retracted on Twitter when criticism began to flood in.
“It's not true that prescription contributions are going to go up for pensioners earning more than €18,000 a year,” she tweeted.
Montserrat had conceded, however, in the radio interview, that the long-term unemployed would not be expected to pay at all.