Holiday surcharge for medicine 'mind-boggling', says mother

By Carmen Hall -
16 comments
Tauranga mother Karen Pope says she was alarmed at having to pay a holiday surcharge on a prescription for her 8-year-old daughter Lenore. Photo / John Borren
Tauranga mother Karen Pope says she was alarmed at having to pay a holiday surcharge on a prescription for her 8-year-old daughter Lenore. Photo / John Borren

Two Bay of Plenty mothers with sick kids are shocked they had to pay a public holiday surcharge on medicines - and are warning other parents to beware.

The two women told the Bay of Plenty Times they had to pay a surcharge of $2 per item at John's Photo Pharmacy on Cameron Rd during recent holidays, with one describing it as "mind boggling".

But the store's owner and the Pharmacy Guild of New Zealand defended the surcharges, saying they helped cover costs and it was up to the customer to decide whether to pay or not.

Papamoa single mother Aneta Mitai can't believe she had to pay a holiday surcharge to pick up a prescription for her 1-year-old son Sirus, pictured. Photo / Andrew Warner
Papamoa single mother Aneta Mitai can't believe she had to pay a holiday surcharge to pick up a prescription for her 1-year-old son Sirus, pictured. Photo / Andrew Warner

Papamoa single mother Aneta Mitai, who studies in Rotorua, said she was charged a $2 fee per item at John's Photo Pharmacy on Cameron Rd on Anniversary Day, which totalled $8 for the four items her 1-year-old son Sirus needed.

"It was mind boggling ... I just could not get my head around the fact they were charging per item. Lucky for me I had the money but sometimes that is not always the case for a lot of beneficiaries or those on low incomes," she said.

"The doctor is free which is obviously helpful but if you are taking your children to get medical access and they don't have the funds to pay for prescriptions some people may just walk away."

Tauranga mother Karen Pope said the pharmacy also charged her a $2 fee on December 28, 2015 for an antibiotic for her daughter Lenore, who suffers from cystic fibrosis.

"They said there was a $2 surcharge because it's a public holiday and I said, 'pardon?' and had to go back to the car to get the money."

A public holiday prescription was in her opinion a need not a want, unlike eating at a restaurant and being charged extra, she said.

A third Tauranga woman, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said she was also shocked to be charged extra when she had a prescription filled at the same pharmacy on New Year's Day.

She had recently arrived from the UK, where no businesses have public holiday surcharges, and was surprised a pharmacy would charge more for essential items.

Tauranga Budget Advisory Service manager Diane Bruin said $2 was a lot for some people and if someone got sick on a public holiday and was on a tight budget they may not start their medication soon enough.

Some of the service's clients would not pick up the full prescription due to the cost, she said.

John's Photo Pharmacy owner John Heale said the store was open 8am to 8pm and government funding did not pay for everything so the business asked the public to pay more and "we don't have a problem with that".

"(People that criticise) have that right and they have the right not to get the medication. It's simple really. They could wait for the next day ... and the surcharge is gone."

The Pharmacy Guild of New Zealand said community pharmacies could set charges on public holidays and after hours like any other business.

Guild chief executive Lee Hohaia said it was a standard practice to charge an additional fee per item on a public holiday or after hours.

"Not all services provided by healthcare professionals are fully subsidised by the Government. If pharmacies do not recoup costs for these services from the patient, the sustainability of pharmacy service provision will be threatened."

Some pharmacies would have a maximum number of items that they charge for and relevant information should be clearly displayed and explained to the patient prior to the transaction taking place, she said.

Bay of Plenty District Health Board said it had contracts in place with some pharmacies that meant there was no surcharge for dispensing government-funded medicines on public holidays but admitted there were grey areas within the policy.

Pharmacy Health on Second Avenue owner/pharmacist Brett Hunter said it was open seven days but did not charge extra on public holidays.

The numbers:

* Most general practices offer zero-fees visits to enrolled children aged under 13.

* Under-13s are also exempt from the standard $5 pharmacy charge for each prescription item.

* District health boards will ensure that children under 13 have access to zero-fee after-hours care and prescription medicines in their local area.

* They must ensure reasonable travel time (maximum of 1 hour) to after-hours general practice and pharmacy services for 95 per cent of their enrolled population.

* After-hours services are designed for urgent visits when the child's regular practice is closed and where the child needs to be seen before the practice opens.

- Ministry of Health

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