Prescription hike will hit poor says MP

MATHEW GROCOTT
Last updated 12:22 02/01/2013

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Increases in the cost of prescriptions will come as a surprise to those on lower incomes when they next visit a pharmacy, an MP has warned.

The fee for prescriptions rose from $3 to $5 as of yesterday with the Government planning to use the extra revenue to boost other healthcare needs.

Iain Lees-Galloway, Labour's associate health spokesman, said the increase was likely to have flown under the radar for most people who would get a shock when they next picked up a prescription.

"This is another attack by the Government on low-income people already struggling to make ends meet," Mr Lees-Galloway said. "It's another admission income tax cuts for the wealthy were unaffordable."

He said the increase would seem minor to many people but it could result in more people not collecting prescriptions.

"It stretches already stretched budgets even further. I've seen a huge number of people in our office pushed from pillar to post by Winz and the IRD, struggling to make ends meet."

Mr Lees-Galloway said from a health policy standpoint the move made no sense.

About 267,000 adults had said they did not get a script filled because of the $3 charge, he said.

This would lead to health problems down the line for many people, including hospitalisation for some, and thus increased costs for the Government, he said.

In announcing the fee increase last year Health Minister Tony Ryall said the additional burden on any one person or family would not exceed $40 per year.

"Most New Zealanders now pay $3 per prescription item up to a maximum of 20 items per family per year, after which items are free.

"This charge will increase to $5 per item on 1 January 2013, up to the 20-item maximum a year," he said.

The move was the first time the prescription charge had increased in 20 years and there would be no charge for under-6s, he said.

"As is the case now, after 20 prescriptions individuals and families get a safety net card [pharmaceutical subsidy card] that ensures all further prescriptions are at no charge for the rest of that year," Mr Ryall said.

"Currently, because of this safety net, about a third of all prescriptions are at no charge to the patient."

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- Manawatu Standard

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