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What Is a Prescription Exemption?

By Melissa Barrett
Updated May 17, 2024
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The prescription exemption program is part of a larger wellness program initiated in the United Kingdom. Operated by the National Health Service (NHS), this program aims to reduce prescription medication costs for children, individuals with low incomes, or those with high medical needs. In general, this program pays for all medicines that are given at hospitals as well as medications obtained from NHS-sponsored clinics. In addition, outpatients that qualify are issued certificates to pay for medicines obtained from independent pharmacies. The costs of contraceptive medications and medications for the treatment of sexually transmitted diseases are universally covered.

The NHS has taken great care to extend prescription exemption coverage to groups that are historically the most impacted by high medical costs. Full payment is offered for most drugs prescribed to children under the age of 16. The program is further extended to those between the ages of 16 and 18 who are still in school. Often, this enables proper medical treatment for children while preserving the financial health of their families.

Prenatal appointments and prescriptions are usually completely paid for by the NHS. Benefits, including prescription exemption, customarily last the length of the pregnancy and up to a year after the birth of the child. Coverage generally encompasses the costs of medications and vaccinations for the newborn as well.

The elderly are often challenged with additional medical needs in combination with decreased work income. Within this age group, individuals who have multiple monthly prescriptions are common. The NHS, accordingly, offers prescription exemption benefits to these individuals as well.

Prescription exemption certificates are also issued for drugs relating to the care of certain disabling illnesses. The medication costs of cancer patients and those receiving renal dialysis treatments are paid by the NHS. In addition, most medicines for the treatment of diabetes and subsequent medical complications from the illness are included for payment. Hormone replacement therapies for conditions like hyperparathyroidism and hypoadrenalism are also included.

The NHS organization offer two types of prescription programs for low-income individuals. In the standard prescription exemption program, full payment for medications is given to individuals whose incomes are below poverty level. This program is usually automatically offered to individuals who meet the requirements of other financial assistance programs sponsored by NHS.

Those who are not technically impoverished but, nonetheless, have difficulties paying for medicine may choose to purchase prepaid prescription certificates. These certificates entitle the holder to as many prescriptions as are necessary each month. For patients who require several regular medications, the savings from this program can be significant.

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