Kiwis have slower and less access to the newest and most innovative medicines than their OECD counterparts, according to a report out this week.
The study, commissioned by pharmaceutical industry body Medicines Australia, shows New Zealand is lagging behind every one of the 19 other OECD countries it examined when it comes to access to new medicines. Of all available new medicines approved by Medsafe, just 13 per cent were Pharmac-funded.
Portugal ranks second worst with access to 16 per cent of new medicines, while Australia ranks third worst with access to 39 per cent.
Japan ranks highest with access to 93 per cent.
When it comes to gaining funded access to the most innovative medicines, New Zealand ranks second worst, with just 11 per cent of "first in class" medicines being Pharmac-funded - well below the OECD average of 55 per cent. Portugal is the worst at 9 per cent and Australia is again third worst with 27 per cent of innovative medicines funded by their government. Japan again tops that list with access to 93 per cent.
Innovative medicines are those considered important enough to have expedited, breakthrough or priority assessments.
The findings were published in COMPARE (Comparison Access and Reimbursement Environments) which benchmarked Australia's access to new medicines from January 1, 2009 and November 30, 2014.
The study also highlighted how long it takes New Zealand to fund new medicines following approval by Medsafe. At 579 days, New Zealand had the second longest wait time for funding.
Pharmac chief executive Steffan Crausaz played down the findings.
"Our starting point is the list of medicines that are already funded, which is comprehensive," said Mr Crausaz. "Not all new medicines are advances on current treatments -- some are 'me-too' drugs or simply different brands of medicines already funded."
But medical oncologist and senior lecturer in medicine at the University of Otago Dr Chris Jackson said: "New Zealand has traditionally been slower to fund most drugs than other countries". As long as that remained the case, Dr Jakson said "people are missing out".
Dr Jackson said there are drugs funded elsewhere which aren't funded here which would help cancer patients "live longer and live better".
"There are medicines that have been proven to extend duration of life modestly that are funded overseas but not in New Zealand. Not many people would question that some drugs have some effect, but you could question whether they are cost effective. It's fair to say New Zealand does spend less on drugs and medicines than other countries.
Health Minister Jonathan Coleman said the Government had increased Pharmac's budget by $147m over the past six years.
"It's up to Pharmac to determine the best health outcomes that are achievable from their budget, which includes looking at what new treatments can be added," said Dr Coleman.
"Regardless of the level of budget, choices have to be made," said Mr Crausaz. "Pharmac's job is to ensure those choices provide better health for New Zealanders, are value for money, and affordable.
Dr Jackson said there is no clear timeframe in many cases as to when Pharmac would fund a medicine. Some medicines are rejected for funding outright but others are given low, medium or high priority. He said more clarity around timeframes would be helpful for patients.