Pharmacies accused of abusing elderly voucher scheme

Local | Erin Chan 21 Sep 2021

Some pharmacies abused the Elderly Health Care Voucher Scheme as they persuaded seniors into cashing out their vouchers, Society for Community Organization community organizer Ivan Lin Wai-kiu said.

On a radio program yesterday, Lin said a Sham Shui Po pharmacy coaxed elderly into redeeming their HK$5,000 vouchers for HK$2,500 cash.

To complete the redeeming process, the pharmacy also told the elderly to buy additional drugs worth HK$100 to HK$200.

Lin said another pharmacy in the district also carried out similar malpractices.

He said the vouchers could not be cashed out but for medical prevention, treatment, and rehabilitation services only.

"The purpose of the voucher scheme is to alleviate the public healthcare system's burden and encourage elderly to use the vouchers on medical services for grassroots," Lin said. He said the prevalence of such cases had to do with the government's lax supervision of pharmacies.

"Education on using the vouchers is also lacking, making elderly easily misguided by pharmacies," he said.

Lin appealed to medical organizations joining the scheme to "set up clear and professional protocols to prevent the abuse of the vouchers," and asked authorities to dispatch undercover operations to combat malpracticing pharmacies.

He also questioned why nobody had been prosecuted over the past five years as a result of abusing the voucher scheme.

Lin said an elderly man complained in vain to the Department of Health after his transaction with a Chinese medical center reached up to HK$4,000.

"The complaint was shelved, as the elderly man couldn't prove that his transaction with the center was an involuntary one," Lin said.

Barrister Luk Wai-hung said if a pharmacy's staff members lure the elderly into making purchases with the vouchers, they may be committing 'deception' - an offense punishable by a maximum of 14-year imprisonment.

The Elderly Health Care Voucher Scheme, launched in 2009, aims to enhance the provision of private medical services for seniors aged 65 or above.

Since 2019, the vouchers' accumulation limit has been increased to HK$8,000.

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