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Medicines subsidies fiasco part of bigger problem

14 May 2008

Medicines subsidies fiasco part of a much bigger problem

"The exposure by Consumer New Zealand that tourists and non-residents are receiving subsidised prescriptions is welcomed by the Researched Medicines Industry Association (RMI). We fully support demands for a full investigation into the fiasco and don't accept the claim by the Ministry of Health that the task is impossible" the RMI chief executive officer Ken Shirley said.

"This long term erosion of the funds available to subsidise medicines is only one of several inherent problems which result in New Zealanders being denied the medicines that they need.

"The budget for subsidised medicines is capped for the current year at $636million but included in this budget are chocolate and strawberry flavoured condoms and over the counter (non-prescription) preparations such as calamine lotion and nicotine patches and gum. All of these competing demands water down the funding available for much needed new innovative medicines" Ken Shirley said.

"The government's policy of reducing the medicines co-payments from $15.00 to $3.00 per prescription has also adversely impacted on the budget available for new innovative medicines.

"PHARMAC has estimated that these policies accounted for 45% of the increase in prescriptions in the 2006/07 year alone with spending on items such as low dose aspirin consuming a significantly higher proportion of the capped community pharmaceutical budget" said Ken Shirley.

"It is also noted that governments regularly fund other health campaigns from the capped budget for subsidised medicines. One example is the recent diversion of $5.5million to purchase various antibiotics for a potential avian influenza pandemic. Regrettably a significant proportion of this antibiotic stock pile has been wasted through inadequate monitoring and failure to rotate the stock.

"At a time when health budgets are severely strained and patients are being denied access to the medicines they need it is grossly negligent to see this type of wastage.

"It is clear that the inappropriate diversion of our medicines budget to non-qualifying visitors is only the tip of a very big iceberg and the RMI calls for a full investigation that covers all of these concerns" Ken Shirley concluded.

ENDS

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