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Better access to health services for NZ'ers

17 August 2005

Better access to health services for thousands of New Zealanders

From January 1 next year, people right around the country will have more help with access to specialist health care, says Associate Health Minister Damien O'Connor.

The Government's new $36m National Travel Assistance policy was announced in May, but details of how it will impact different regions have not been available until today.

The policy will replace regional policies, and see the number of people eligible for assistance more than double to over 100,000.

"Under the existing schemes, eligibility, reimbursement and administration vary between regions. The new policy standardises assistance across the country and provides consistency," Mr O'Connor said.

"It means people won't need to travel such long distances before they qualify, and people seeking assistance will be measured by the same criteria, regardless of where they live in."

The scheme is targeted at people who: Have to travel long distances to access specialist health or disability services (outpatient, inpatient or day patient secondary or tertiary services) outside their community area Incur high travel costs as a result of frequent visits to specialist health and disability services Have significant financial need that might otherwise prevent them from accessing necessary specialist health or disability services.

"The policy really helps people suffering chronic diseases and those who live in rural areas needing specialist health care," Mr O'Connor said. "It recognizes that these people have enough to contend with, without having the added financial pressure of trying to access care from afar."

Also targeted are people who live relatively close to specialist health services but must access them frequently. For example a Christchurch person suffering cancer and requiring a high dose of radiation therapy five times a week for five weeks will be able to claim travel costs, even though they live in the inner city.

The scheme also recognises the financial situation of families with sick children. A Motueka family with a child who has to travel to Nelson Hospital will be able to claim assistance with travel costs without meeting any frequent travel criteria, as long as the family has a Community Services Card.

Mr O'Connor said it was imperative that all New Zealanders, no matter where they lived, had access to timely, quality healthcare. "The new policy will assist with this goal."

See attached document for what the policy will mean for specific regions, and for regional examples.

A copy of the National Travel Assistance (NTA) policy can be viewed on the Ministry of Health's website www.moh.govt.nz/travelassistance and over the next six months information will become available online for patients and their families at www.health.govt.nz/travelassistance.

National Travel and Accommodation Policy Q&A

Why is travel assistance available for specialist services? It is impossible for the Health System to have every type of specialist at every hospital because New Zealand’s population is so spread out. There are some specialties that are only available at one national centre or a handful of regional centres. The government recognises that people need to have good access to the necessary specialist services even if they are not available locally. This is why the government provides assistance towards helping people meet the costs of travel to specialists.

What will it mean for existing clients?

From August existing clients can expect to be notified by mail about the changes. People who now claim assistance through their District Health Board will have to claim through HealthPAC from 1 January. Some clients can expect changes to what is reimbursed.

Will reimbursement cover the full cost of travel? People will be able to claim the full cost of public transport and/or a contribution towards private mileage or accommodation. The scheme cannot cover all the costs associated with travel because the limited funding available needs to be prioritised among a range of needs in the health system. Providing a contribution towards travel costs in a nationally consistent manner to people who need it most is considered a good compromise.

What trips will I be able to claim travel assistance for? You can claim assistance for travel to appointments following two types of referrals if you meet the eligibility criteria in the policy (e.g. distance requirements). If you have a referral from a publicly funded specialist (e.g. at your local hospital) for an appointment with another publicly funded specialist service (e.g. a national specialty centre) you can claim assistance for travel. If a specialist (at any public facility) says you need to visit him or her again you will also be able to claim assistance.

What are the main changes to eligibility in the new policy?
· people aged 16 and 17 will be eligible for the same (higher) level of assistance as children under 16
· a higher level of assistance will be available for children with a Community Services Card
· people referred by a publicly funded specialist to publicly funded specialist services more than 350 km away from their homes will be eligible for assistance, regardless of how often they travel and even if they do not have a Community Services Card
· people who have to visit specialist services more than 25 times in two months will be eligible for assistance regardless of how far they have to travel and even if they do not have a Community Services Card.

Were my views represented when the policy was written?

National community consultation was carried out in 2000. The feedback from the consultation was incorporated in the policy review. A summary of the feedback received following the consultation is available on the Ministry of Health’s website.

How can I find out more? A toll free number will be able to provide information about the scheme closer to the time. Training seminars and manuals will be available for hospital social workers and other staff who will need to advise clients on the scheme from October. When the new scheme begins your hospital social worker will be able to provide brochures and registration forms. Until then, see www.health.govt.nz/travelassistance.co.nz.

ENDS

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