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$36m health policy improves access for rural NZers

13 May 2005

Media Statement

$36m health policy improves access for rural NZers

Thousands more rural New Zealanders will be eligible for assistance when accessing specialist health services, following the announcement today of the government's new national travel and accommodation policy, worth $36m annually.

Announcing the policy at the Rural General Practice Network Conference in Auckland, Associate Health and Rural Affairs Minister Damien O'Connor said the new policy would significantly improve rural people's access to specialist services.

"About 30,000 people nationwide get assistance under the current travel and accommodation policy; that figure's set to exceed 100,000 under the new scheme. Many of these people will be from rural areas.

"It's good news for thousands of rural New Zealanders needing to travel long distances for specialist health care."

The new policy kicks in on January 1. Worth $36m annually, it's designed to assist people who are referred by a publicly funded specialist to publicly funded specialist services outside their area.

It specifically targets those travelling long distances, those who incur high travel costs as a result of frequent specialist visits and those finding it difficult to access specialist services because of low income.

There are existing travel and accommodation schemes, but eligibility, reimbursement and administration vary between regions. The new policy standardises assistance across the country and provides consistency.

From 1 January HealthPAC will administer all claims, meaning claimants only have to call one toll free number for information, regardless of where in the country they live and where they need to travel. Those eligible can expect reimbursement within a few days of travel.

Mr O'Connor said many rural New Zealanders missed out on assistance under the current travel and accommodation schemes. "I'm looking forward to the new policy addressing these anomalies and provider greater access.

"It's imperative that all New Zealanders, no matter where they live, have access to timely, quality healthcare. The new policy will assist with this goal."

ENDS

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