Pharmacies in Madrid will start making patients pay part of the cost of their prescription medicines, the regional authorities said Wednesday as they presented a crisis cost-saving budget.
The move to make patients pay one euro ($1.30) per prescription for drugs issued by the free public health system follows the example of the Catalonia region where the same measure, contested by users, was brought in this year.
Madrid and the other autonomous regions that make up Spain are scrambling to lower their deficits to meet a 2013 target of 0.7 percent of output set for them by the central government.
Madrid's deficit last year was 2.2 percent and the target for this year is 1.5 percent.
In its efforts to meet the 2013 target, the government said next year's budget contained 1.424 billion euros of spending cuts, bringing the region's overall budget to 17 billion euros.
The president of the Madrid region, Ignacio Gonzalez, insisted that the one-euro prescription charge was aimed at saving costs by moderating the consumption of free medicines, rather than a direct cash-raising measure.
"This measure is aimed at dissuading, not at raising revenues, because it will have a small economic impact," he told a televised news conference.
"What we are trying to do is promote efficient use of medicines."
The political opposition said the move would hurt the poor and elderly in a time of recession that has driven the unemployment rate up to 25 percent.
"If you are ill and have no resources, they are going to finish you off -- that is what the one euro charge for prescriptions means," the regional leader of the opposition Socialist party Tomas Gomez told RTVE television.