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Medical subsidies wrongly given to non-residents

MEDIA RELEASE 13 May 2008

Taxpayers are unknowingly subsidising pharmacy prescriptions for tourists and international students possibly to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars, Consumer NZ has found.

Chief executive, Sue Chetwin, says many people in New Zealand on visitors or students permits are getting subsidised pharmacy medicines they're not entitled to. And the sums involved could be substantial. Last year, 173, 675 visitors' permits and 96, 473 student permits were issued.

Ms Chetwin says the problem stems from software designed by Medtech Global, which the company claims is used in 75 percent of primary practices.

General practitioners use Medtech's software to generate prescriptions for patients. But the software cannot identify non-residents who are not entitled to subsidised pharmacy medicines. It currently codes these patients as being eligible for subsidies.

The software fault means pharmacists filling prescriptions for visitors and students are charging them a subsidised rate. Pharmacists then claim the subsidy from the Ministry of Health. The problem also extends to lab tests.

In response to Consumer NZ inquiries, the Ministry of Health says it is aware of the problem and has raised it with MedTech. The Ministry says it has no way of quantifying the subsidised prescriptions incorrectly given to non-residents.

Tauranga pharmacist and chair of Consumer NZ, Mark Bedford, says in the last week he has served several non-residents presenting prescriptions at his pharmacy. All prescriptions were incorrectly showing the person was entitled to a subsidy when they were not.

Mr Bedford says urgent action is needed to fix the problem. Pharmacists and laboratories also need to be made aware of what is happening.

Until the software problem is fixed, the only way prescriptions can identify non-residents is if the GP adds a hand-written note to the computer-generated script.

The Ministry of Health says Medtech has assured it that the software problem will be fixed as soon as possible. Medtech told Consumer it would likely be fixed next month.

Consumer wanted to know from Medtech how long it had been going on for and how much taxpayer money was involved, but it didn't return calls today, Ms Chetwin said.

ENDS

www.consumer.org.nz

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