Some of the things National would cut to give Pharmac more money for medicines

Simon Bridges says the Government could afford to buy all the drugs on Pharmac's wish list if it stopped wasting money and banning new ways of making more.

On Wednesday Newshub revealed Pharmac has a list of 73 medicines it would like to buy for Kiwis, but can't due to budget constraints. The total cost would be just over $400 million - requiring a 40 percent increase in Pharmac's $1 billion annual budget.  

"This is a pot of money and if there isn't enough, Pharmac has to ration it. That's what we're seeing," the National Party MP told The AM Show on Friday.

"You do have to make choices, but if you say fees-free at a couple of billion, if you say AJ Hackett, if you say a green school, if you go through it you could quite quickly say here's some stuff the Government's wasting money on." 

'Fees-free' is a reference to the Government's full funding of the first year of tertiary education. While $2.5 billion was initially set aside to spend over five years - enough to pay for everything Pharmac wants - its budget has been reduced after it didn't spark as many new enrolments as expected. But rather than spend the savings on medicines, it instead went on reforming the vocational education sector.

Tourism operator AJ Hackett Bungy received $5 million in taxpayer funds to help it get through the post-lockdown spending lull last year, while the privately-owned 'green school' received $11.7 million in infrastructure funding from the COVID-19 recovery fund.

Bridges and Parker.
Bridges and Parker. Photo credit: The AM Show

"If you don't do live animal exports, if you don't let Pacific Islanders in to pick fruit, you don't have the cash," Bridges said.

The Government has also announced a ban on live exports from 2023. The Animal Genetics Trade Association claimed this would knock "half a billion dollars from our economy" each year.

Bridges also singled out taxpayer spending on the new Hamilton-Papakura train service, Te Huia, which has had mixed patronage to date - full on some days, near-empty on others.

Labour MP David Parker, appearing with Bridges on The AM Show, said health spending was already the Government's biggest expense, and Pharmac's budget had gone up 20 percent in the last four years.

"Simon's already admitted to some extent there is a limited pot of money - that pot has got bigger year upon year. We are funding more drugs... Back in the day, there were 30 extra drugs coming on for scrutiny, now there's 150. Part of this is an explosion in health technology."

Parker pointed to the review of Pharmac's operations, announced last month, admitting there were "fair questions to ask" about how it makes decisions. 

"We promised at the election we'd have an inquiry into that, and we did... Governments have to do everything, so we have to get the balance right."