Labour MP Arena Williams defends tweet saying Government policy will mean father will 'never choose between heating, health'

Labour MP Arena Williams claims she was never trying to suggest her father was forced to choose between heating and medicine with a tweet that's caused a furore online and been fact-checked by Twitter.

National MP Judith Collins is labelling the tweet "very dishonest" and is "surprised" Williams hasn't apologised and deleted it. 

Following the Government's Budget 2023 announcement that it was abolishing the $5 co-payment for prescription medicines, Williams tweeted that her father "pays around $50 a month for medicine" from a local pharmacist.

"Scrapping the fee means he'll never choose between heating his bedroom and his health," the Labour MP wrote.

The tweet was fact-checked through Twitter's community notes programme. It added the extra context that the $5 co-payment is only paid on 20 items per year, so there's a maximum annual charge of $100. That would mean Williams' father would only have to pay the $50 for two months.

But Williams, who earns more than $163,000 per year, was also questioned online over why she was suggesting her father had to choose between heating and medicine, especially given that it's emerged her father lives with her.

When Newshub put that to her, she said she was not trying to suggest her father was currently in that difficult position.

"What I said is that he will never have to choose," Williams said.

"Even if his circumstances changed, he wouldn't have to make the decision between medicine and other essentials in his life.

"The point is that he will never have to make a choice. If he moved out of our home, if he moved into different accommodation, if something happened to me, which is the same situation that many people, especially older people are in where their children aren't in a position to look after them, he wouldn't have to make any of those choices."

Williams said her father, broadcaster Sir Haare Williams, had recently had a health scare and spent time in hospital. 

"I went and picked up his prescription from the Middlemore Pharmacy which is one that charges $5, which is a co-payment that is charged per item. For that prescription, there were 10 items on the script, I didn't get a couple of them because we had Panadol and ibuprofen at home. 

"But this is what many people face where they are handing over $40, $35 for that prescription. Because it was a new prescription, that's not what he's had in the past, but the next prescription, he went and paid, and it was another $40."

After Williams shared the tweet, Collins commented that the Labour MP should "be a good daughter and help out your dad".

"You can afford to," she tweeted. 

It's now emerged that Williams lives with her father, and Collins is calling it a "very dishonest tweet".

"I thought it was very misleading. I thought very disappointing bringing her dad into the debate like that," she said on Tuesday.

She's "surprised" Williams hasn't deleted the tweet or apologised for it.

Collins received criticism for her initial response. Asked on Tuesday if she had been vindicated, Collins said: "I think that's the thing with the truth, it always comes out."

Prime Minister Chris Hipkins has described the policy to cut the $5 fees as a "preventative measure" and claimed it was "going to save the health system money". It's going to cost the Government $618.6 million over four years to abolish the charges. 

Health Minister Ayesha Verrall said the Government expected about 3 million New Zealanders would benefit from the scrapping of 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.