Fee rise a bitter pill to swallow for many

SOPHIE SPEER
Last updated 05:00 28/12/2012
Kas Govind
KEVIN STENT/Fairfax NZ

USELESS MEDICINE: Cannons Creek pharmacist Kas Govind with his wall of prescriptions that have been filled but not picked up.

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Prescriptions are piling up at a Porirua pharmacy as patients can't afford the $3 fee - and it's only going to get worse when fees increase on January 1, the pharmacist says.

Pharmacist Kas Govind said between five and seven people a day were not collecting their filled prescriptions from Cannons Creek Pharmacy, many because they did not have the money to pay.

Some people with prescriptions for multiple medications would pay for one or two items, leaving the rest uncollected or for a later date.

The Government announced in May that it would increase the fee to $5, using the extra revenue to boost other healthcare needs. Mr Govind expected the problem to worsen when the increase came into effect.

One resident, shocked by the amount of uncollected medication sitting on shelves, asked the community via a Porirua Facebook page to donate money.

More than $250 had been raised since Saturday, including one donation of $100, which would be used to pay for people's prescriptions if they couldn't afford it, Mr Govind said.

Pharmacy Guild executive chairwoman Karen Crisp said it was an issue across the country that was likely to get worse with the fee increase.

"It depends on individual priorities and varies from person to person.

"Some areas have more problems than others.

"Price is a barrier to people collecting prescriptions," she said.

Socio-economically targeted charges would mean those who could least afford prescription fees could access medicine.

Mr Govind agreed: "We need to charge $3 for those with community services cards and $15 for people that can afford it.

"It's going to better benefit the areas where it's hurting the most."

He feared many of the patients who were going without their medication would end up in hospital with more serious illnesses.

Skin infections, eczema and respiratory illnesses were common in the low-socio economic area, and not treating them early often led to kidney problems.

"There are two questions: why do they not pick them up, and why do they only pick some up and not the lot?

"Is it finance? Is it a lack of priority for health and wellbeing? Is it - I don't know. I'm assuming it's finance."

The issue was exacerbated at certain times of the year, such as Christmas and the start of winter when bills piled up.

Families or individuals who paid for 20 prescriptions in a year were exempt from prescription fees for the rest of the year. The subsidy years run February 1 to January 31, coinciding with the start of the school year, when money is tight.

Mr Govind said he was also experiencing hardship because of the situation, as time was spent filling prescriptions and processing payments from the Government only to have to reverse them when the medicines were not picked up.

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- The Dominion Post

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