Bay of Plenty pharmacists and health advocates have welcomed the move to axe the $5 prescription fee.
The decision, announced on Thursday as part of Budget 2023, will cost the Government $619 million.
Health professionals and advocates told the Bay of Plenty Times the $5 co-payment was a barrier that kept some people from accessing needed medications.
Bethlehem Metro Pharmacy owner Steel Shin said his reaction to the announcement was: “Finally.”
“I think it needed to happen,” Shin said.
“They’ve got solid data from the University of Otago to show that cost is a barrier for some New Zealanders [with regard] to accessing medicines and leads to poor compliance in managing their health.”
Shin said the decision was a “win-win” for both customers and community pharmacies.
“Community pharmacies get to know people. We learn their medication needs by heart.
“Now, people who might have gone to discount chemists because of their financial needs can shift back to us if they want to.”
John’s Photo Pharmacy co-owner and pharmacist Rebecca Greave said the decision was “a long time coming”.
“It’s great news for the community, and it evens the playing field so people can choose to support their local pharmacy without having to choose discount options because of their finances.”
Greave said in her experience, the $5 co-payment meant people with the highest needs were incurring the greatest cost. Often, she saw customers having to pick and choose what medications they could afford to pick up on the day.
“[Scrapping the co-payment] means pharmacists can focus on our primary role as medicines experts, rather than explaining the intricacies of funding and tax collection,” Greave said.
“It was hard for customers to understand and it was not something they needed to focus on.”
Asthma and Respiratory Management Bay of Plenty nurse Debbie Elliott said she hoped the change would improve compliance in the use of preventer inhalers.
“Hopefully, we’ll see better control of people’s asthma,” Elliott said.
“People won’t often pick up their prescription for preventer inhalers because of the charges. Those on a monthly inhaler can see the cost as a barrier due to it being ongoing.
“But for asthmatics, the preventer inhaler is there to prevent lung damage in the future, so it is important to use it regularly as prescribed.”
Age Concern Rotorua manager Rory O’Rourke said he believed the elderly used the pharmacy’s services most of all.
“Any extra money is going to be beneficial to people. The majority of older people will have a prescription, so they will benefit from this decision.”
Health Minister Dr Ayesha Verrall said abolishing the fee would ease household budgets while relieving pressures on hospitals.
About 135,000 adults did not collect their prescriptions because of cost in 2021-22, Verrall said.
In his speech to Parliament at the Budget 2023 announcement, Prime Minister Chris Hipkins said the decision meant an estimated three million people would no longer have to worry about the cost of collecting medication.
“Last year, more than 29 million items were dispensed that attracted the $5 co-payment. This will be a helpful saving for millions of Kiwis.”
National Party finance spokeswoman Nicola Willis said the party did not support the decision.
“We would not have universal zero fees,” Willis said.
“We would expect that there would be some New Zealanders who would still pay a prescription charge.”
Clarification: A sentence quoting National leader Chris Luxon saying the party would bring back the $5 co-payment has been removed.