$3 prescription charges

The Dom Post reported:

Poorer New Zealanders are ending up in hospital because they cannot afford to pay for medicines prescribed to them, a study has found.

Maori and Pacific people are especially hard-hit and the study’s author says the only way to ensure equality is for the Government to lower co-payments – the amount patients have to pay for each prescription.

I’m not so sure. We’ll look at details in a minute, but first I’ll make the general point that even when certain services are free, such as immunisations, they are not fully taken up.

The research, published in the international Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, found more than six per cent of the 18,000 people surveyed had put off filling a prescription for financial reasons at least once a year.

So 94% do manage to pay the $3 charge. To me that suggests that rather than scrap the fee for everyone, you look at targeting assistance to those on the lowest incomes or greatest health needs.

Who should someone like me not pay the $3?

The other query I have, is were those 6% facing purely the $3 charge, or was there an additional part-charge for some of them as the medicine was not fully subsidised?

That figure jumped to 15 per cent for Pacific people and 14 per cent for Maori.

The results were alarming, lead researcher Santosh Jatrana said.

“We were not expecting that much difference between ethnicities.”

Maori and Pacific people not only tended to be more deprived but were also more likely to have greater health needs, Dr Jatrana said.

But they also have the lowest immunisation rates, and they are free. There may be cultural factors at play, beyond price.

It was worrying that people who had two or more illnesses – and often needed multiple prescriptions – were also avoiding picking up prescriptions, she said.

“Deferral of necessary drugs is only going to make their conditions worse.

“People who put off buying prescription drugs because of cost are more likely to be admitted to hospital with serious acute conditions as they haven’t purchased medication or gone to their GP.”

Overseas studies had shown that people who could not afford all their medication resorted to giving themselves half-doses, skipping doses or spending less on basic needs such as electricity or food.

There was a clear message from the study, Dr Jatrana said. “We need to reduce the co-payments. It’s very simple and straightforward.”

Not at all. Someone has to pay for all these drugs. If 94% of people are paying without problem, why would you stop charging them?

Target the people most in need I say.

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