Budget 2021: Pharmac got what it was promised - Grant Robertson

Grant Robertson has defended not giving Pharmac all the money it needs, saying he's delivered what Labour promised at the 2020 election.

To fully fund Pharmac's wishlist would cost an extra $400 million a year, on top of the $1.1 billion it already gets. That would give Kiwis funded access to 73 new medicines, documents released under the Official Information Act in April showed.

Pharmac itself hasn't asked for the money - requesting just a 4 percent increase in its budget for this year, NZ Herald reported, which it got. But that didn't stop 100,000 Kiwis signing a petition asking for it to be doubled, then tripled.

"F*** you, Grant Robertson," said organiser Malcolm Mulholland when he heard the news on Thursday. 

"If you are waiting on a medicine to be funded in New Zealand, you have to leave the country. That's what it means."

Robertson, appearing on The AM Show on Friday morning, said he understood "there will be groups of people wanting more".

"There's always more to do in so many areas, and that's the nature of any one Budget - you just can't meet every single need."

He said the $200 million boost over four years - $50 million a year - was "the manifesto commitment we made".

"We've lifted Pharmac funding by 25 percent since we've been in office, it's gone over $1 billion, and we will keep working on lifting funding for Pharmac. We need to."

He said some Kiwis have been missing out on access to drugs they need because of the way Pharmac works - as a single buyer of medications in New Zealand, Pharmac uses its size to get good prices by buying in bulk. This is being looked at in the current review of the agency. 

"All of us have got friends and family who are affected... I know how hard it is. It's why we've lifted the funding and it's why we're going to keep working on it... There's masses of needs across the economy and across society.  We've lifted funding in health and education, we need to be investing in infrastructure. Every Budget requires a balance... We will keep working on it."