Opposition politicians have turned their sights on what they say is an embarrassingly small funding increase for the national drug-buying agency in a Government Budget that was meant to focus on health.

While the Budget this year featured significant increases in areas such as mental health, Pharmac got $10 million extra for the year – just over a 1 per cent bump in the context of a nearly $1 billion annual budget.

National MPs in Parliament on Tuesday were determined to try to jab what they see as a gap in the Government's "Wellbeing Budget" armour.

"Why, when Budget 2019 allocated $15.2 billion of new operating spending over four years, couldn't he find enough funding in the Budget to ensure Pharmac's funding at least kept pace with inflation?" National's Finance spokeswoman, Amy Adams, asked of the Finance Minister in the House.


She was keen to point to big-ticket items, such as fees-free tertiary education, while raising by name a series of recent high-profile case of New Zealanders pleading for Pharmac to fund medication that could save their lives or their loved ones.

Among them was Troy Elliott, who has been publicly lobbying the Government for his wife Tracey, who needs access to a cancer drug funded in Australia and Britain, but not New Zealand - and which he says privately costs some $120,000 a year.

Finance Minister Grant Robertson, meanwhile, pointed to the billions that had been spent on health elsewhere.

"I understand for any family that is going through a situation where they have a family member with cancer that is traumatic. What we know in this country, Mr Speaker, is that Pharmac makes the decisions about what drugs it invests in," he said.

"We now spend nearly $1 billion on the Pharmac budget, and we will continue to invest in that."

New Zealand's population grew 1.76 per cent in 2018, according to Statistics New Zealand. The consumer price index, a common measure of inflation for households, rose 1.5 per cent in the year to March.

That left National Health spokesman Michael Woodhouse arguing the Pharmac had not only received a pittance, but that its budget had effectively shrunk.

But Robertson and Health Minister David Clark were making no apologies.


In last year's budget, the Government increased Pharmac's funding by more than 13 per cent, from about $870 million to $985 million. That compares to increases of 2.4 per cent and 6.3 per cent in National's last two years in government.

"Last year, 331,000 more patients got access to medicines because of the Pharmac model," Clark said.

"This year there will be more people that get more access to more medicines again."

Pharmac compares the benefits and prices of various drugs to decide which to fund for maximum public benefit. The list of drugs it's considering funding next is a closely guarded secret.

National's Finance spokeswoman, Amy Adams, says Pharmac's new funding doesn't even keep up with inflation. Photo / Mark Mitchell
National's Finance spokeswoman, Amy Adams, says Pharmac's new funding doesn't even keep up with inflation. Photo / Mark Mitchell