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Reconsider Costly Wellington Health Lab Contract

Reconsider Costly Wellington Health Lab Contract

Heather Roy Wednesday, 21 June 2006 Press Releases - Health

ACT's Health Spokesman, Heather Roy, has written to the Minister of Health, asking him to reconsider his endorsement in Parliament yesterday of Capital and Coast and Hutt Valley District Health Boards' decision to charge for lab tests ordered by private specialists.

"I have asked Pete Hodgson to reconsider his support for a move which will impose more costs on patients and increase waiting lists", Mrs Roy said.

"Wellingtonians and Hutt Valley residents will have to pay between two and three million dollars a year for lab tests, but there will be a human cost as well.

"For many people, it will mean the difference between prompt private assessment and a long wait for a public specialist.

"Tens of thousands of people are already waiting for a First Specialist Assessment. Increasing the cost of private assessment ensures the public waiting list will continue to grow.

"The people most likely to be pushed into the public queues by lab fees - including a new $13 'encounter fee' - are those on low incomes and with high health needs.

"There's no difference at all between tests recommended by private and public specialists. This just reinforces Labour's artificial barrier between the private and public systems.

"Government should be making sure healthcare is available for everyone, easy to access and affordable, whether it's in the public or private system.

"Mr Hodgson's endorsement of this move will be seen as encouragement for all DHBs across the country to negotiate similar arrangements with their lab service providers.

"All Kiwis should be aware that Labour has given the green light to more costs, delays and pressure in our already overloaded health system.

A copy of the letter from Capital and Coast and Hutt Valley DHBs to private specialists outlining the decision to charge for lab tests is available from ACT's website at www.act.org.nz/labletter. Heather Roy's letter to Pete Hodgson is below.

21/06/2006

Hon Pete Hodgson Minister of Health Parliament Buildings Wellington

Dear Minister

I am very concerned at the decision by Capital and Coast DHB and Hutt Valley DHB to charge patients for laboratory tests ordered by private specialists from 1 November 2006. I am especially uneasy about the impact this will have on waiting lists for specialist assessments and the extra costs of laboratory testing that many people will have to bear.

In response to a supplementary question in the House yesterday you said that you "endorse the decision of those two District Health Boards".

The costs are not insignificant. This decision is expected to load an extra cost of $2 million to $3 million a year onto Wellingtonians and Hutt Valley residents who 'go private' for their specialist assessment. Those with health insurance are likely to see their premiums increase, while those without insurance will have to not only find the money for their specialist's bill, but for the tests and the Laboratory's "encounter fee" - an additional charge of $13.

Some private specialists have already informed my office that, to avoid the fees, they intend to send patients back to their GP for the ordering of tests that will not then incur a fee. This will place further pressure on our General Practitioners, who are already working hard to manage the health of their communities. The result will be significant 'double handling', which is unnecessary.

Of course, the other way for people to avoid the fee is for them to see a public specialist. As you are well aware, tens of thousands of New Zealanders are already waiting for a First Specialist Assessment.

By encouraging more people to see public specialists, the waiting lists are likely to continue growing. As people wait longer for specialist assessments, the conditions of those needing treatment will worsen. Ultimately, the cost of waiting could be more than the lab tests are worth, and the cost in human terms will be tragic.

This policy change will hit those less well off the hardest. Wealthy people will not suffer the same discouragement from an additional lab fee, and are not likely to suffer as badly as those without the means to pay higher costs. The people most likely to be pushed into the public queues by this fee are those on low incomes, or those with high health needs, whose families often save or borrow to pay for urgent treatment. The low socio-economic groups you most want to help will be those worst affected.

When patients see a private specialist, they remove themselves from public waiting lists. Specialists working in the private sector thereby help decrease the time people need to wait for both private and public assessment. Surely the work of private specialists deserves to be recognised, instead of being punished by making their patients pay extra fees?

Your public endorsement of this move in the House yesterday will be seen as encouragement for all DHBs across the country to negotiate this arrangement with their lab service providers. I believe all New Zealanders should be concerned that, should they choose to accept financial responsibility for their healthcare by being seen privately, the cost of their healthcare is about to increase once more.

I note that the Health Funds Association is seeking a legal opinion on whether adding this charge breaches people's rights to healthcare.

I hope that you will change your mind about the acceptability of this plan, and ensure that Kiwis do not have to bear the greater expense and longer waiting lists that contracts like this one will create.

I enclose a copy of the letter sent by Capital and Coast DHB and Hutt Valley DHB to specialists.

Yours sincerely

Heather Roy MP Health Spokesman ACT New Zealand

ENDS


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