More New Zealanders will be able to get free doctors' visits as part of a raft of changes which come into force today.

July 1 is the implementation date for several Government policies, including its headline health policy of extending free GP visits and prescriptions to under-13-year-olds. Free visits were previously only available for children under 6.

Prime Minister John Key said the changes were made possible by careful management of the economy, and they would have real effects on families.

"We're committed to giving kids the best start in life and that means ensuring they are able to go to the doctor any time of the day or night without their parents worrying about the cost," Mr Key said.


Labour Party health spokeswoman Annette King said the policy was good for parents and children. She said the true test would be how many doctors' clinics could afford to sign up to the scheme.

"The Minister of Health is refusing to say how many GP practices have joined up. I wouldn't have thought that was a secret. Parents will want to know if they're in or out."

Health Minister Jonathan Coleman's office said the rate of registration by clinics will be revealed today.

Doctors' visits

GP visits and prescriptions will be free for under-13-year-olds from today. The change was expected to benefit 400,000 children at a cost of around $30 million a year. Around 90 per cent of GP clinics are expected to sign up for the scheme.

Parental Leave

Beginning today, the maximum weekly rate for paid parental leave will increase from $504.10 to $516.85. The increase reflected the 2.5 per cent rise in the average weekly wage over the last year. In April, paid parental leave was extended from 14 weeks to 16 weeks, though Opposition parties wanted it to be raised to 26 weeks.

Palliative Care

National's election promise to increase funding for palliative care will kick off today, with $13 million more for the 29 hospices. The funding boost was designed to allow the hospices to keep pace with the country's ageing population.

Vehicle Licensing

The average ACC motor vehicle levy will fall from around $330 to $195 a year. Reductions will be smaller for older cars.


Sole Parents

Sole parents who take up fulltime study will be eligible to receive the same rate of accommodation support as they would if they were receiving a main benefit. The change will affect around 3500 sole parents who are studying and could see them up to $165 better off each week.