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Kiwis pay millions extra on prescriptions - study

Tuesday 13 Nov 2012 5:10 p.m.

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By Dave Gooselink

New research has revealed New Zealanders are spending millions of dollars on what should be free prescriptions.

The Government should pick up the tab once people have paid for 20 items a year, but hundreds of thousands of Kiwis are missing out.

Dunedin mum Helen Patterson spends a lot of time at the chemist. With three kids and a husband with diabetes, the family's prescription fees quickly add up.

“You pay for about four or five months, depending on how many prescriptions you get, and once it adds up to a certain amount you get a card from a chemist,” she says.

Most people pay a part-charge of $3 for their prescriptions, but once an individual or family has more than 20 items a year, they qualify for a prescription subsidy card, giving them free medicines for the rest of the year.

Professor Pauline Norris from Otago University’s pharmacy department says the $3 charges can add up.

“The people we're mainly concerned about are the people for whom $3 is a significant amount of money, and who are getting lots and lots of items, so in fact may have quite high prescription charges.”

Researchers from Otago and Victoria universities were surprised to discover how many people are being overcharged. Figures from Pharmac reveal around 180,000 people a year pay for prescriptions they shouldn't have to, at a cost of $2.5 million.

Some families say they've never heard of the scheme. Mother of three Martha Dewey says we wish she had.

“When you've got a family of five any saving you can make is fantastic, so I wish I’d heard about this card.”

And Professor Norris says the current system is just too complicated.

“The system requires quite a high level of being organised and having one pharmacy, collecting receipts from other pharmacies, taking them back to your main pharmacy.”

Prescription fees will increase from $3 to $5 each in January, meaning families should pay no more than $100 a year for standard prescriptions.

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