Free doctor visits for under-18s - Greens

ANDREA VANCE
Last updated 11:13 31/05/2014

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The Green Party wants to implement free doctors' visits for those aged up to 18, extending a recently announced Government policy.

Under the $29 million-a year plan, prescription charges for around 290,000 teenagers would be abolished from July 2015. They also wouldn't pay for trips to their GP.

In this month's Budget, National extended free visits and prescriptions to those aged up to 13 year olds from next year. This is forecast to cost $30m a year. Since 2008, there has been no charge for up to 6 year olds.

A series of family-friendly policies have been announced ahead of September's general election campaign as parties battle for the crucial centre ground.

Greens co-leader Metiria Turei unveiled the policy to about 200 delegates at the party's annual conference in Silverstream, Upper Hutt this morning. Those aged 13-17 have some of the most pressing health needs, she said.

"There are ongoing costs to the health system of not treating teenage illness, and sexual health issues, which can damage them forever if left untreated, and these young people shouldn't be written off as too expensive to help,'' she said.

One in four teens put off going to the doctor, particularly girls and Maori and Pacific youngsters from poor neighbourhoods. A GP visit can cost as much as $56, with the mean charge at $22. The Healthy Teens, Healthy Futures package would help reduce hospital admissions, help prevent unwanted pregnancies and give support, she said.

In the package, $21m a year will go to providing free visits and charges. A further $8m will help GPs deal with the extra workload. Half all mental health disorders start in the teenage years, as well as substance abuse, self-harm and obesity issues. New Zealand also has a high teenage suicide rate, she said.

The Greens will also work on extending free after hours care beyond those aged up to 13. The party says the policy was in development before the Government unveiled its Budget. ''Why stop at age 13? Do they [National] seriously think teenagehood is all sunshine and roses?'' she said.

Turei told delegates the party's goal of 15 per cent of the vote - or 20 MPs is ''starting to look quite modest.''

''We are on the edge of history. But the edge is no place to pause for breath,'' she said. 

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