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National's health policy a tragedy of errors

6 September 2005

National's health policy a tragedy of errors

Don Brash's health policy announcement today is a tragedy of errors that would set back the health of New Zealanders, says Health Minister Annette King.

"The first error he has made is to say that scrapping universal funding for primary health care will save $180m a year. It will actually only save $154m a year, and that's a huge difference," she says.

"Last week Dr Brash said he wouldn't interfere with the universal funding going to access PHOs. Today he has announced he'll be taking money off them.

"This error is par for the course, and the lack of clarity in the finanical information National has based their policies on is abysmal. I am not convinced they haven't already spent the money needed for their health policy on tax cuts."

Annette King says Don Brash's second stuff-up is to announce that National will put in $75m more into the Pharmac budget over three years, almost $25m less, in fact, than the $99m increase recently agreed between the Government and the DHBs over the same time frame.

Don Brash also listed a range of new drugs National wants to fund. These new drugs would cost an extra $31m a year, but National is only commiting to put in an extra $12m a year.

Compounding these errors, Don Brash is making three serious mistakes that will put the long term health of New Zealanders at risk; getting rid of universal funding for primary health care, inventing a new version of the "poor card" and going back to the tired old failed mechanisms of one-off funding for elective surgery.

"Health professionals know that many chronic diseases appear in the middle years of people's lives, diseases like diabetes, cardio-vascular disease and respiratory disease. And yet these are the very people who will find it more costly to access health care under the Brash medicine. They will inevitably end up in hospital instead, which costs more.

"National has not got the courage to tell people before an election where the threshhold would be for a new "Poor Card". Will it be $20,000? Will it be $30,000? Those who earn under $35,000 per annum would find the $12 a week tax cut that National is promising won't go very far in terms of paying for health care. They will lose their cheap prescriptions as well.

"The one-off fund of $33m a year for elective surgery is also pathetic. It equates to about $1.5m per DHB on average and probably doesn't even match the extra funding boards will be applying to elective surgery off their own bat in a sustained way over the next three years and beyond.

"It is a complete farce and they have learnt nothing from the past."

Annette King says the final failure is that there is no sustainable funding, or even any mention of funding in National's policy, in areas such as mental health, child health, dental health and cancer services.

"And what will happen to the half billion dollars pay increase for nurses and the large increases for other health professionals, like dental therapists, all of which are to be paid out over the next three years? What a lemon! No wonder they've taken it to the wire by releasing policy so close to the election.

"National's real agenda is to once again go down the user pays route in health. The only people to benefit from this approach are the private health insurance industry – already exposed as instrumental in the development of National's ACC policy."

ENDS

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