Cheaper doctor visits: The Government's first broken promise?

The Government is back-pedalling on a key election promise to lower doctor fees by $10 a visit.

Heading into the election, Labour made a concrete promise to reduce doctors' fees, starting July 1 - but that's no longer going to happen. 

The Government has admitted cheaper fees will be phased in instead. It will release details on Budget day, which is May 17.

At her weekly post-Cabinet press conference, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern insisted her reversal on the start date for $10 cheaper doctor visits is not a broken promise. 

"We remain committed absolutely to the aspiration of more affordable and more accessible healthcare," she said.

"What we are talking about is also needing to make sure we have an adequate number of GPs, an adequate number of hospitals able to treat people in acute need, that we have DHBs who aren't sinking into further and further debt.

"We have a commitment to achieving these over time, but I think people will appreciate we can't achieve all of that in one Budget," she continued.

"Some of our areas of focus, while we remain absolutely committed to them, will need to be phased."

During the campaign, Labour clearly signalled its promise for nation-wide cheaper GP visits.

"In the last year, over half a million New Zealanders did not visit the doctor when they were sick because they couldn't afford the cost," its policy says.

It even puts a date on it. 

"From 1 July 2018, Labour will lower the cost of GP visits by $10," the policy says.

National Party health spokesman Michael Woodhouse was quick to call it a broken promise.

He said the Government has racked up a "woeful litany" of broken promises in just six months, including "the manufactured Middlemore crisis, raising massive expectations for nurse pay increases he won't now meet, the debacle of the air ambulance tender, inertia and an unnecessary inquiry in mental health".

During the election, Labour said the policy would cost $259 million a year - fiscal modelling which included the cost of extra GP training places and an extra $46 million for GP practices.

"Funding for this policy comes from the $8 billion of increased investment in health that Labour has pledged to make over the next four years," Ms Ardern said.

But in forming a coalition Government with New Zealand First and the Greens, Labour has made a number of additional health promises that it's got to find the cash for.

There's also the nurses' pay dispute, which could mean pressure to boost funding to DHBs above the promised level. It's got until the 2020 election to find funding for coalition commitments to:

  • "Ensure everyone has access to timely and high quality mental health services, including free counselling for those under 25 years" - promise made to the Greens in the confidence and supply agreement.
  • "Increase funding for alcohol and drug addiction services" - a promise made to the Greens in the confidence and supply arrangement.
  • "Annual free health check for seniors, including an eye check" - a promise made to NZ First in its coalition agreement.
  • "Teen health checks for all Year 9 students" - a promise made to NZ First in its coalition agreement.
  • "Free doctors' visits for all under 14s" - a promise made to NZ First in its coalition agreement.
  • "Progressively increase the age for free breast screening to 74" - a promise made to NZ First in its coalition agreement.

The Government insists it has a contingency to cover coalition commitments.