Cutting the cost of medicine

EMMA BEER
Last updated 13:00 19/11/2012

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Getting people informed about prescriptions payments and entitlements is the key to ensuring those who are eligible are not paying unnecessarily for their medication, says a Nelson pharmacist.

Researchers at Victoria and Otago universities have found many people are paying for medication that should be free. Under the New Zealand health system, once a family or person has paid for 20 prescriptions, they are exempt from the $3 prescription fee.

In Nelson, Prices Pharmacy co-owner Stuart Hebberd said things worked well as long as patients were informed.

The pharmacy encouraged people to keep track of their prescriptions but often they weren't aware of the subsidy programme. Receipts were provided to customers and pharmacists were happy to call other pharmacies to help keep records up to date, or check if the person was eligible for free medication, Mr Hebberd said.

Pharmac data shows that 180,000 people pay for prescriptions after they should be exempt, costing people an extra $2.5 million a year.

Nelson-based MP Maryan Street, who is Labour's health spokeswoman, this week called for the Government to hold off plans to increase prescription prices from $3 to $5 next year.

"If it doesn't, then we are looking at a return to the days of Jenny Shipley when some people were forced to choose between medicines and other essentials such as food.

She said that because no central database existed for a pharmacist to check to see if a customer was entitled to free medicines, there was no safeguard.

However, Mr Hebberd said it would be extremely expensive to create such a system, and probably wouldn't warrant the cost.

There are, however, plans for an electronic sharing system of health information. This was being trialled in areas around the country, he said, and the database would include dispensing information that may be able to keep track of prescriptions.

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- The Nelson Mail

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