National's cheaper GP visit policy possible because of government's fiscal management, Health Minister Coleman says

National's cheaper GP visit policy possible because of government's fiscal management, Health Minister Coleman says

By Alex Tarrant

It hasn’t taken long for National to roll out that old chestnut of us only now being able to help low income people with certain living costs because of sound fiscal management over the past nine years.

The government’s announcement of cheaper GP visits for low income earners is something it has wanted to do for a long time, although Ministers first had to wait for the “dividends of growth” to come through, Health Minister Jonathan Coleman says.

Coleman and Prime Minister Bill English on Monday announced an $18 cap for GP visits for people with community services cards, and broadened the eligibility criteria for those cards to all people on government accommodation support, including the Accommodation Supplement.

The announcement, coupled with a previous pledge for free GP visits for under 13s, will mean that from 1 July next year, over half the population – 2.5 million - will be eligible for either free or $18 GP visits. The policy is estimated to cost $380 million over four years, to be paid for out of the government’s Budget 2018 operating allowance.

Coleman told media that while community services cards were being underutilised, they allowed for an immediate way to target subsidies at low-income people. “A very clean and efficient way of delivering the care where it’s needed.”

“[The policy] is going to make a significant difference in terms of literally the health of the population over the years to come,” he said.

I asked why the policy was needed now. Was it getting more difficult for people to access primary care?

Coleman's response: “We’ve wanted to have a more targeted system. Some people have told us that affordability is an issue, but at the same time that’s been a bit of a mixed picture.”

He referenced the NZ Health Survey as showing the number of people talking about prescriptions as a cost factor had dropped over time. “But there are other people saying that in any given year they’ve got to take into consideration the cost of going to a doctor. And for 600,000 extra people, that consideration has now dropped way, way down.”

I put to Coleman that the government had raised Accommodation Supplement payments in Budget 2017 and now was cutting GP visit prices. Was this an admission that basic costs had got away on some people?

“Nine years of really prudent fiscal management, knowing how to manage the economy and actually that was down to Bill’s time as Finance Minister, we are now in the position to do many of these things which we’ve wanted to over a long, long period,” he replied.

“So we’ve got some real options. And those dividends of growth are going back first of all to the most needy New Zealanders, in the case of health, which is 600,000 extra low-income New Zealanders getting these very cheap consultations.”

Could these costs keep falling if the economy keeps getting better then? “This is a significant announcement today. I’d just enjoy this one.”

See the announcement from Coleman below:

An additional 600,000 lower income New Zealanders will have access to $18 doctor visits under National, as one of the dividends of a strong and growing economy, Health Spokesperson Jonathan Coleman says.

National will also expand access to the Community Services Card to an additional 350,000 New Zealanders with low incomes and high housing costs, to ensure they can access a range of cheaper health services.

“We want to support more low income New Zealanders to access the healthcare they need, when they need it,” Dr Coleman says.

“We’ve already made sure all children under 13 have free GP visits and prescriptions. Around 1.4 million New Zealanders also have the cost of visiting their GP capped at $18 through the Very Low Cost Access scheme.

“National will build on this by introducing an $18 cap on GP visits for all Community Services Card holders.

“National will make it easier for 600,000 low-income New Zealanders to visit their GP before a condition deteriorates. This in turn will help further reduce the numbers turning up at busy emergency departments with issues a GP could have resolved.

“This change means a family of three earning up to $60,000 per year will be able to access $18 GP visits – with children under 13 still able to go for free.

“As part of this policy, National will also expand the coverage of the Community Services Card to include everyone receiving an Income Related Rent Subsidy or Accommodation Supplement.

“As well as getting access to cheap GP visits, 350,000 more New Zealanders with lower incomes and high housing costs will receive cheap prescriptions, free emergency dental care and free glasses for children through their new Community Service Cards.

“These changes will increase the total number of New Zealanders who can access either free or very cheap GP visits to 2.5 million, at a cost of $380 million over four years. The cost will be met from the 2018 Budget operating allowance.

“Our intention is to roll the policy out from 1 July 2018.

“Today’s announcement shows the benefits we can deliver through a growing economy and National’s commitment to help New Zealanders get ahead,” Dr Coleman says.

We welcome your help to improve our coverage of this issue. Any examples or experiences to relate? Any links to other news, data or research to shed more light on this? Any insight or views on what might happen next or what should happen next? Any errors to correct?

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One more election bribe, keep them coming. Seems everything that previously was not funded/economically viable is suddenly ready to rolled out next year if National is elected again. Makes me wonder why it took so longer, could the poll results be causing some nervousness. I think it should, Peter Dunn knows it's a sinking ship so he jumped before it went down, wonder who is next.

It was actually after input from the College of GPs, which he fails to acknowledge.
And it looks like "Free Beer, Tomorrow"

National are so out of touch. Imagine promoting policies of fiscal prudence in an age where everyone else is printing money. Who even uses the word Prudence anymore?

Well apparently National don't they borrowed money and then expect everyone to think they're clever when they have a surplus to start paying off all their debt. They then criticise Labour for promising to spend then turn around and offer $10b in roading as a limp election bribe.

Well apparently ASB economists disagree with you, "ASB economists say the post-election Government will 'have the luxury of choice' when it comes to being able to spend".

And apparently Deloitte's analysts also disagree with you, "A prolonged period of relative stability, and the prudent financial management of government’s books.."

Perhaps Dr Jonathan has recently spent some time waiting in A&E and experiencing the extortionate number of people waiting to be seen by a medical practitioner?

Unlikely, but he will soon have to start seeing patients again himself methinks.

You`d have to be pretty desperate to see him if you were sick.

If you call a 500% increase in government debt sound fiscal management, then yes he's right.

See above, both ASB economists and Deloitte's analysts feel your single figure economics is overly simplistic.

Come on! How much did this Minister allow the Ministry of Health to blow out on their headquarters budget,$37mill ?? How much did the Ministry foul up the apportionment to the DHB's $35 mill ?? How long has this Minister been allowing his Ministry to conduct what has all the appearance of a vendetta against the funding for the Canterbury District Health Board. And he stands up and trumpets "FISCAL MANAGEMENT ." And to that I say "BALDERDASH." What utter tripe, high altitude sickness or something it would seem.

I tend to vote National, but this is one Minister that definitely has me wavering, to say the least.

Foxglove. Try to look a little bit beyond the sensationalist MSM reporting on the CDHB budgeting issues. David Meates recently publicly confirmed funding would have been sufficient if not for two issues ; the capital charges arising from all the new work following the earthquakes and an unplanned increase in mental health demand. Population based allocation formulae are also argued to have biases that work against Canterbury so some potential for errors to have worked against the CHDB, that need to be addressed. But a deliberate vendetta on the part of central government against a regional health board ? ..... sounds a bit fanciful. Aug 4,Aug 17 - tip of iceberg - but never mind.

When I see how Coleman speaks in Parliament there is NO WAY I would trust this man. A lady I know has waited since 2 March for an urgent heart operation. It may be done in the next 6 weeks. Another example of incompetent health management in this country. Time for Coleman to go away.