Money spent on health boosts the economy because it ends
up in the pockets of the lower paid, says Prof Martin McKee, a
specialist in European public health.
Prof McKee, of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical
Medicine, will speak to senior doctors today at a conference
in Wellington marking the Association of Salaried Medical
Specialists' 25th anniversary.
Part of Prof McKee's research examines the relationship
between the health system and the economy.
Prof McKee told the Otago Daily Times New Zealand had
a highly regarded health system, but one ''anomaly''
surprised outside experts.
Charging for GP visits did not work, he said.
It did not raise much money, it did not deter unnecessary
treatments, and it became complicated and expensive over time
because of exemptions.
''In a way, it's a bit of an anomaly in the New Zealand
system which has many other things that are good.
"I think it's a surprise for people from outside that you do
have co-payments, because they're just not a good idea.''
Asked about the Labour Party's election promise to give
people over 65 free doctors' visits, he said: ''I have a
problem with all of these systems that target one group ...
''Once you start doing it with one against the other, there's
a real danger that you stoke up ideas of intergenerational
conflict, as one group is portrayed as benefiting at the
expense of the other.''
Co-payments had been described as a ''zombie policy'' by
another health researcher, because the idea kept being tried
by politicians, even though it did not work, he said.
Prof McKee said a ''political movement worldwide'' driven by
the very wealthy pushed for tax reduction and a narrow health
and welfare system to assist only the very poorest.
It made sense to have a broad publicly funded system, which
engendered a happier and healthier population, he said.
Internationally, many of the health gains in recent years
went disproportionately to people on higher incomes.
Prof McKee advocated ''progressive universalism'' which would
provide for all, but give more help to those people on lower
New Zealand was at the ''bottom end'' of international health
spending, which accounted for about 6% of gross domestic
''In New Zealand you actually spend very little money on
Unlike other types of government spending, such as defence,
health stimulated the economy.
''If you put money into health or eduction, which are labour
intensive, you're essentially putting money ... into the
pockets of some of the lowest paid workers.''
They tended to spend it in local shops, and on local services
The very wealthy tended to hold on to their money, often
avoiding paying tax by using offshore havens, which did not
benefit local economies.
Academic arguments in favour of financial ''austerity'' in
social spending were flawed, he said.