Reduced hospital prescription cost welcomed

Reduced payments for drugs prescribed in public hospitals will be welcomed by pharmacists who have been getting flak from customers annoyed at having to pay extra for such drugs, Pharmacy Guild of New Zealand practice manager Christine Mandeno says.

Patients have had to pay a $15 charge for a medication prescribed by a hospital doctor when the same Government-subsidised drug would cost $3 when prescribed by a general practitioner through a Primary Health Organisation where they were enrolled.

From September 1, the Government will extend what is called the $3 co-payment charge to prescriptions from public hospitals and after-hours doctors.

Health Minister David Cunliffe said the charge reduction would include prescriptions from any public or private provider of health services who has an access agreement or service arrangement with a PHO or district health board.

It is understood the original restrictions were designed to encourage people to enrol with PHOs but the system has been criticised by specialists and pharmacists, who have reported patients going back to PHO GPs to get drugs re-prescribed and avoid the charges, something which could cause patients both inconvenience and increased costs. It also carried some risk of error.

Ms Mandeno said patients found it difficult to understand why five prescription drugs from a hospital prescriber cost $75 when those same drugs would cost $15 if prescribed through a PHO.

It was extremely hard for people on limited incomes to meet the hospital prescription charges, particularly if they had several medications.

Ms Mandeno said it was hard to say whether the $7 million allocated by the Government this financial year would be enough to cover the change. It would also be difficult to tell how many hospital scripts were being re-written by general practitioners when patients discovered the cost.

Dunedin pharmacist Warren Leonard said he did not believe the $7 million would go far to cover the cost of hospital prescriptions. He would like to see the co-payment charges removed altogether.

By doing this the Government could take out a layer of bureaucracy and remove what was really a tax on being ill.

It was not a fair system and payments for medicines should come out of general tax revenue, he said.

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