Budget 2021: Chris Hipkins debunks National's speculation of health cuts

An early draft of the Ministry of Health's Budget 2021 wish list has made its way into the public courtesy of the National Party. 

It includes a $200 million funding boost for drug-buying agency Pharmac and half-a-billion dollars just to pay for population increases to keep the lights on at the hospitals, far less than what they got last year. 

But the requests may not be fulfilled because the letter didn't get sign-off from Health Minister Andrew Little. 

It comes as the Government announced on Wednesday that it is spending $1.4 billion to ensure all New Zealanders can get the COVID-19 vaccine at no cost. 

It's quite a chunk of change to get out of the Budget, but then it's easy to shake cash out of Finance Minister Grant Robertson when you're in charge of COVID-19. 

"I was not declined any of the money that I asked for, for vaccinations," COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins said when asked about the billion-dollar vaccine bill. 

Everyone else has to beg, borrow or cut. There are many demands, including medicines other than the vaccine. A poignant protest at Parliament last Wednesday called on the Government to double Pharmac's billion-dollar budget. 

But a draft letter from the Ministry of Health containing a recommended Budget 2021 bid only asks for an extra $200 million. That's what Labour promised during the election, though Newshub revealed recently that the drugs on Pharmac's waitlist would cost an extra $400 million a year

For Fiona Toilich, one of those campaigning for more Pharmac funding, $200 million doesn't touch the sides. 

"They're either not listening, ridiculously inept or they've got no moral compass," she told Newshub. 

But $200 million may not have been the final request, because Hipkins standing in for the Health Minister who's off sick, said in Parliament on Wednesday the draft letter didn't make it past the goalie.

"The Minister of Health did not agree with the contents of the draft letter, he rejected it, never sent it."

Robertson also said the letter was a draft. 

"I think that was a draft letter from the ministry," he told Newshub. "The letter Minister Little sent me was quite different from that letter."

National's health spokesperson Dr Shane Reti is convinced the Government is going to make cuts. 

"Let's see tomorrow how much of the draft is actually the final copy."

The letter proposes reconsidering free annual health checks for seniors, and $500 million increases for District Health Boards (DHBs) to meet cost increases - that's to keep the hospitals running - which is about half what they got last year.

"This is looking well short of what the sector is expecting," Dr Reti said. 

Newshub has confirmed there will be a boost to Pharmac's budget. The only question that remains is exactly how much more they'll get.