Claire Trevett

Claire Trevett is the New Zealand Herald’s deputy political editor.

Labour kicks off campaign with focus on health

Cunliffe during the Labour Party campaign launch. Photo / Brett Phibbs
Cunliffe during the Labour Party campaign launch. Photo / Brett Phibbs

Labour leader David Cunliffe has announced those aged over 65 will be added to the groups who get free doctors' visits and prescriptions under a major boost of funding for primary health care.

Speaking at Labour's campaign launch today, Mr Cunliffe unveiled Labour policy to fund free GP visits for about 700,000 people aged over 65, as well as pregnant women.

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Labour will also maintain National's policy of extending free GP visit to children aged under 13 from next year.

Outlining the new health policy, he called on his own family background to explain the need for it. He said his father had a series of heart attacks starting when he was about 55 years old.

"Dad got great care from our public health system and that meant he could go on caring for me, for my family and others for another two decades. That drove home to me how important strong public healthcare is to making sure we get well and stay well."

He said under National health funding had not kept up with population growth and inflation. "Last year more than half a million New Zealanders needed to see a doctor, but couldn't afford an appointment. That is a disgrace. That is not the New Zealand we believe in. We are a better country than that."

Labour has costed the expense of extending free health care to the over 65s at $120 million a year, including $100 million for GP visits and $20 million for free prescriptions.

Mr Cunliffe said Labour was committed to progressively reducing health costs across the board, starting with those with the highest health needs.

In its policy, Labour says National's increase to prescription fees had added an extra $15 million to the amount older people paid each year.

"It is unfair that the people with the most medical need are also saddled with the greatest health costs."

Mr Cunliffe said it would mean about 40 per cent of New Zealanders, or 1.7 million people, would be eligible for the free healthcare.

He announced the policy of free health care and dental visits for pregnant women yesterday - expected to cost an extra $10.4 million a year.

Labour would also extend the CarePlus programme so that an extra 250,000 people with serious or chronic conditions would be eligible for an extra four free doctors' visits. That is expected to cost about $90 million a year.

A further $60 million would be put in to subsidise doctors' in low income areas to keep their fees low.

The National Government extended it from children under 6 to children under 13 in this year's Budget.

The Green Party policy is for free GP visits for children under 18.

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Video

Mr Cunliffe was given a rapturous welcome at the launch and his speech focused on Labour's target areas for the election campaign - such as jobs, education and affordable homes.

He walked onto the stage while Don McGlashan and his band hammered out Split Enz song Time for a Change.

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- NZ Herald

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