600,000 NZers to receive cheaper healthcare

From tomorrow more than 600,000 New Zealanders will be eligible for free or cheaper GP visits at $20-$30 off. 

Community service card holders and all children aged under 14 will be the first to benefit from government's free and discounted GP policy.

Spreaking from Island Bay Medical Centre, which cares for more than 1,200 CSC holders, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says, "It is significant.  We're talking about over half a million New Zealanders affected by these changes, so a significant number will be experiencing cheaper doctor’s visits and then we have that increase in universal access for free for 13-year-olds."

The government says more than 80 percent of GPs have signed up to deliver cheaper visits.

Ardern says last year more than half a million NZers didn't go to a GP because of costs.

"We need to address the fact that there are people who do not go to the doctor when they need it and in some cases that means their health deteriorates and then they end up in hospital anyway.

"Ultimately we want people to be in good health and with these changes we hope that more people will be." 

Last year, Labour campaigned to reduce doctor's fees by $10 across the board.  National health spokesperson Michael Woodhouse says middle income earners could be footing the bill.

"It is possible that those without community services cards could be paying more,” says Woodhouse.

“GPs are telling me that's what the Ministry of Health officials have indicated to them and also the process of contracting has been very poor, very little notice given to GPs about those changes."

Dr Lance O’Sullivan sparked debate on NZ's health system this week after airing his frustrations on Facebook.  O’Sullivan threatened to walk from a system "broken for Māori" and overrun by bureaucracy and incompetent officials if radical change is not made.

Speaking with Te Kāea, O’Sullivan says “Every DHB in the country, every board member and every board of DHBs, PHOs and health organisations around the country nauseate me with their endless commitment to health equity. ‘Māori health disparities is a priority for us,’  That’s b********.  Cause it’s not a priority, they’re just talking about it and not doing anything.”

Although the announcement might be seen as a win for CSC holders and children, questions loom whether patients will receive quality care at a discount.

Woodhouse says, "I wouldn’t agree that it is broken but it is certainly in need of a bit of a shake up so that we can use the technologies and scopes of practice for other health professionals to deliver care.

“I did hear him talk about nurses more being more involved in family practice.  Good family practices are already doing that and I think there are other opportunities to expand those sorts of initiatives across the country."

Ardern says, "There is no doubt there are a many things about our health system that we need to improve.  Here today we are trying to improve access [to those] who need it most and improve access for children."

"We are trying to rebuild our infrastructure, our hospitals, make sure there's enough beds available.  We know significant investment and change is required and we are moving on that.  We're just not going to be able to do it all in one year."  

Very Low Cost Access practices such as iwi health providers will continue to deliver cheaper visits at the same costs.