Bringing back prescription fees could lead to jump in hospital admissions, study shows

Bringing back the $5 co-payment for prescription medicines could see a jump in hospital admissions, a new study by Wellington researchers says.

The Victoria University study of 71,502 people found those who did not pick up a prescription because they could not afford the $5 fee had a 34 percent higher rate of being admitted to hospital.

Data was taken from New Zealand Health Surveys run between 2014 and 2019.

The study found nearly 6,000 people in the sample reported not picking up a prescription in the previous year because they could not afford the $5 co-payment. Among that group, 60 percent were admitted to hospital during the study period, compared with 43 percent of those who were able to pay the fee.

Lead author Dr Mona Jeffreys acknowledged that there were a range of factors that led to people being admitted to hospital, but said the study had accounted for that.

“We didn’t take anything else into account, just looking at whether or not they could afford a prescription,” she said.

“My hope from this piece of research would be this would be taken as really good evidence to show that we should keep all prescriptions free for everybody.”

Prescription charges also had a big impact on health equity, Jeffreys said.

“For Māori, the prevalence or how common it is to not be able to afford a prescription is much, much higher. The impact of these prescription charges is much higher on Māori, on Pacific communities, on people living in deprived areas, on low income families.”

The $5 prescription co-payment was removed on 1 July 2023. Prior to the 2023 election, the National Party announced it intended to reintroduce the co-payment, although the fee would not be charged to everyone.

In a statement, a spokesperson in the Minister of Health’s office said re-introducing the co-payment in a targeted way would make sure that funds were freed up for other vital services, such as cancer care.

They said the Government had committed that the $5 prescription co-payment would remain free for people aged 65 and over and people on low incomes.

“These groups include some of the highest users of prescription medicine. By supporting Kiwis in most need, we will continue to help people stay well and out of hospital,” the spokesperson said.

“The Ministry of Health is currently considering the policy approach to the $5 prescription co-payment in-line with the Government’s commitment.”

According to the news on Radio New Zealand

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