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760,000 benefit from low doctors fees initiative

Hon Pete Hodgson
Minister of Health

11 October 2006 Media Statement

760,000 benefit from very low doctors fees initiative

The Labour-led government's initiative to support general practices that charge very low fees has been more successful than anticipated with 212 practices taking up the extra funding, Health Minister Pete Hodgson announced today.

Pete Hodgson announced in August that $43 million over four years would be invested in practices who, as a result of charging very low fees, were facing challenges with their long-term sustainability.

The Ministry of Health had estimated that 166 practices serving 615,000 people would benefit from the investment. The number of practices taking up the new funding from 1 October is actually 27 per cent higher than estimated and 145,000 more people are covered by the initiative.

"The Labour-led government believes that no family should have to choose between putting food on the table and paying for the cost of a doctors visit," Pete Hodgson said. "We had become concerned that some practices who provide low cost access – the same ones who often serve high need families – were facing issues retaining staff and maintaining facilities.

"The government has invested $2.2 billion to lower the cost of primary health care for all New Zealanders. And I'll be clear that all GPs have a right to set their own fees and that I believe that all GPs are committed to high-quality, affordable access for their patients.

"But any GP who feels they need to charge very low fees to ensure the health of their community deserves to have their ambition supported and encouraged by the government. It appears that a number of practices that were charging low fees, but not low enough to qualify for the new investment, have been encouraged to lower their fees further, a move which I welcome."

Due to the popularity of the initiative, the first year costs will be $2.4 million higher than anticipated. This will be accommodated within the current Primary Health Care Strategy budget.

Attached: Backgrounder on success of the very low cost investment

--

Background

The very low cost access payments commenced on 1 October 2006. Primary Health Organisations (PHOs) and practices participating in the very low cost access initiative commit on a quarterly basis to charging very low fees. They are required to charge zero fees for children under six years, and no more than $10 for children 6-17 years and $15 fees for adults 18 years and over. An exception is made for practices that have not yet received funding for the age group 25-4 years but they do not receive the additional payment for this age group.

Take-up has been higher than expected. Participating practices number 212, spread across 55 Primary Health Organisations (PHOs). This means two thirds of PHOs are participating to some extent. Around one third of PHOs (26) qualify for the whole of PHO very low cost access payment because all of their practices are participating in the initiative.

In total, nearly 760,000 people (759,037) enrolled with PHOs are covered by this initiative and therefore benefiting from very low fees. This is 19.3 percent of all enrolees. (The estimates the Ministry advised were about 166 practices serving around 615,000 people). Some additional PHOs and practices are expected to take up the initiative next quarter starting 1 January 2006.

Only three DHBs have no participating practices.


ENDS

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