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State-Subsidised Pharmaceuticals Not The Only Way

Media Release
Pharmacy Direct
15 June 2005


A leading online pharmacy has called on New Zealanders to “get over” their automatic dependence on state-subsidised pharmaceuticals.

Kerry Linkhorn, Pharmacy Manager of Pharmacy Direct, says that the government’s drug-buying agency, Pharmac, should be congratulated on last week’s decision to continue subsidising the cost of the asthma inhaler, Ventolin and on this week’s moves to broaden access to HIV/AIDS treatments.

However, he says, Pharmac should not be thought of as the sole channel through which affordable prescription medicines can be sourced, as a very wide range of pharmaceuticals can be purchased privately, at a cost that most consumers can meet.

“We have to applaud the open-mindedness and willingness to listen that Pharmac has demonstrated over the Ventolin issue. There was legitimate cause for concern that the replacement treatment might not have suited everyone. And, certainly, no-one likes having change suddenly foisted on them.

“Similarly, we applaud Pharmac’s decision to widen access to the combination HIV/AIDS treatment, Kaletra and to extend availability of antiretroviral treatments to prevent the transmission of HIV to unborn and newly born children. Both these steps bring New Zealand closer to international best practice.

“Even so, we have to recognise that Pharmac does not have infinite funds and has to make choices. Very often, this will involve deciding not to subsidise a pharmaceutical where there is a broadly acceptable alternative available. When this happens, pharmacists are still free to explore other sources for the non-subsidised treatment on behalf of their customers,” he says

Mr Linkhorn cites the sum of $220 per month for a recognised treatment for Alzheimer’s Disease or Dementia as an example of a relatively inexpensive pharmaceutical that is not subsidised by Pharmac. Similarly, between $60 and $120 per month can purchase relief from arthritis along with greater mobility, whilst $300 per month can help someone give-up smoking.

“There are, of course, some New Zealanders who simply cannot afford unsubsidised medicines. In most such cases, there will be a Pharmac-subsidised product which fully meets their basic medical requirements. Some further thought might, however, be required from health officials over how to meet the needs of the comparatively small number of people on restricted incomes for whom a generic product may be medically inappropriate.

“Even so, a very large percentage of New Zealanders will find it comparatively easy to meet the costs involved for non-subsidised medicines. They are therefore free to pick and choose a treatment with which they feel, in every sense, comfortable. For them, it will be a case of prioritising their expenditure and exercising consumer choice.

“We should also remember that today’s New Zealanders are often very widely travelled and have friends and family overseas. It’s to be expected that some will seek treatments which they know to be available elsewhere. Similarly, there are many immigrants to New Zealand who are used to a given medicine or treatment and, quite reasonably, wish to be able to continue with it.

“In no other branch of the health sector, is state funding still regarded as an irreplaceable ingredient in how we are all treated. We have got used to private hospital treatment being available, whether or not we use it. We have also got used to private medical insurance and we have always been used to paying for dental treatment or eye care.

“Pharmaceuticals are far from being the most expensive items connected with health. So isn’t it time we got over the belief that every conceivable medicine should always be available on a subsidised basis?” he asks

Founded in 1998, Pharmacy Direct is one of only two online pharmacies accredited to the Pharmaceutical Society of New Zealand.

“Every pharmacist in New Zealand should be able to source prescription medicines from reputable and reliable overseas sources. However, an online pharmacy such as ours is able to order in bulk, providing a cost advantage, in line with the best price guarantee we offer all our customers, “ says Kerry Linkhorn.


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