Diabetes changes dominate Pharmac hearing

By Amelia Romanos

A common diabetes blood test kit which Pharmac withdrew funding for, earlier this year. Photo / NZ Herald
A common diabetes blood test kit which Pharmac withdrew funding for, earlier this year. Photo / NZ Herald

A controversial proposal to change diabetes testing systems dominated a Pharmac hearing at Parliament this morning.

Pharmac is considering new funding arrangements for several diabetes management products, including switching to new diabetes blood glucose meters and test strips, which is expected to save about $10 million a year.

Diabetics have reacted angrily to the plans, protesting at Parliament yesterday and speaking out at consultation meetings in March about the disruption new machines could have for patients.

The system was in the spotlight again today when Pharmac's acting chief executive Steffan Crausaz appeared before Parliament's health committee for the organisation's financial review.

Labour MP Maryan Street led the charge, questioning why Pharmac was considering a "backwards step".

"Why would Pharmac choose to invest in a blood glucose meter that clearly doesn't have the functionality of already existing technologies?

"It doesn't have a backlight, it's got inferior batteries, it doesn't have the memory power, the test strips are smaller, and all those arguments that you know from the 3000 submissions you've received on this."

When asked how many of the submissions had been in favour of the new system, Mr Crausaz admitted that it was "certainly not the majority".

Speaking outside the committee, Mr Crausaz said he was not surprised that the focus of the hearing had centred on the diabetes proposal.

Although there were a handful of other Pharmac decisions that had attracted a wide public interest, he admitted it was unusual.

"There's a very large number of people that have subsidised devices, over 120,000 of them, that's a lot of people so therefore there's a lot of community views and interest as a result," he said.

"Medical devices are different than medicines because people interact with them on a daily basis in a much different way ... It's expected that people would have a much closer, and more engaged approach to dealing with any change proposal."

Mr Crausaz told the committee a decision on whether to go through with the proposal was still some way off, and would not be made within the next month.

"Our minds are certainly not made up, and we are progressing with an open mind with regard to the feedback we've received," he said.

"If we even progress with it broadly as we've outlined, I'm virtually certain that there would be changes."

- APNZ

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