Budget 2023: Christopher Luxon clarifies National's stance on $5 prescription fee

National leader Christopher Luxon has clarified his party's stance on the Government's decision to abolish the $5 prescription co-payment in Budget 2023.

Following the announcement from the Government on Thursday, National finance spokesperson Nicola Willis was reported as saying her party would repeal the removal of the $5 charge - arguing it was a "nice to have" and it would subsidise wealthy people.

Labour quickly responded with an attack ad, calling National "Budget Day's Grinch".

"First instincts tell you a lot about people. For National today it is to make sick Kiwis pay more for medicine. 

"The choice this year could not be starker. Forward with Labour or #coalitionofcuts," senior minister Michael Wood tweeted.

Asked about National's position, Luxon said the party didn't support the policy being universal - meaning it applies to everyone. 

"I don't think it makes a lot of sense that someone like me gets the benefit of that," he said.

However, he said he did see the need for helping those who "most desperately need it". 

"I think targeting it to people with community services cards, for example, targeting to people with super gold cards would actually be the way in which we would go about doing that."

For people who are "doing it really tough" or "low-income folk and elderly folk", Luxon said there is a "really good case for actually giving targeted support and certainly making free prescriptions available for them."

He said: "I think if I can pay, I should pay". 

"I think it's really unfair, it's money that's wasted on being spent on someone like me, for example, who can afford to pay for my prescriptions myself."

Health Minister Ayesha Verrall on Thursday said the Government expected about 3 million New Zealanders would benefit from the decision to remove the $5 fee. 

"The $5 charge can be a barrier to some New Zealanders getting the medicines they need and this is especially the case at a time when people are facing increasing pressures on household budgets," Dr Verrall said. 

"As a doctor, there were times when my patients did not collect their medication and, in fact, we know more than 135,000 adults did not collect their prescription because of cost in 2021‑22. This is particularly the case for low-income families, Māori, Pasifika peoples and disabled New Zealanders."

The policy is estimated to cost about $618.6 million over four years and will begin in July.

There is already a prescription subsidy scheme in place for an individual or their family who has paid for and collected 20 new prescriptions for medicines funded by the Government each year.  After the 20th prescription, there is no longer a $5 fee. It resets on February 1 each year.

Pharmacists from the Prescription Access Initiative (PAI) said they were "delighted" by the Government's move to get rid of the fee altogether.

"We are crying - we are so delighted, pleased and relieved for our communities - everyone will have better access to healthcare," said PAI spokesperson Vicky Chan.

"The positive impacts will be huge - it’s difficult to take in. We wholeheartedly congratulate and thank the Government for this fantastic move."