National, Labour standoff over prescription fees as Newshub poll reveals how confident Kiwis are in health system

The Budget books have been opened and the money's flowing out the door so ministers are hitting the road to sell their wins.

One of the spends causing a standoff is the move to make prescriptions free.

There was also a focus on reducing waitlists in the Budget and the Government's given itself a new surgery target of one year - which is being criticised as being far too long.

After working out what goes where, the Prime Minister was out on the road getting to spread the word about who gets what. Meanwhile, the Finance Minister dined on the post-Budget high.

"This is an attempt by us to bring us back to slightly more normal levels of Government spending following on from COVID," said Grant Robertson.

But National leader Christopher Luxon believes Kiwis should "be under no illusion spending is going harder and becoming more intense and stronger".

One big spend squabble is over the $150 million a year to make prescriptions free.

"I don't think it makes a lot of sense that someone like me gets the benefit of free prescriptions. I think if I can pay, I should pay, do you know what I mean?" Luxon said.

Prime Minister Chris Hipkins said it's "difficult to know what the National Party's position" on the policy is.

"Yesterday they were saying they were going to reintroduce the prescriptions. Today they're saying they're going to target them," he said.

Luxon thinks it should be targeted towards "community service cards, for example, targeting to people with super gold cards".

Free prescriptions and 500 more nurses were among the Budget offerings for a creaking health system.

Apera Pēta has had a mixed experience with the health system.

"For years it made me not feel heard, it made me not feel valued… A lot of people don’t like hearing it, but a bit of racism," said Pēta.

We asked in our latest Newshub Reid Research Poll: Are you confident you would promptly receive the care you need in the healthcare system if you were to become ill?

The majority 50.7 percent said no, while 41 percent said yes.

"It makes me determined to show them that we can do better and we will," said Health Minister Dr Ayesha Verrall.

Pēta said: "Sometimes you can be waiting up to three, four hours in the emergency room. I understand there's staff shortages and stuff but it’s hard out there at the moment"

Waits are too long in every corner of the health system.

By the start of 2023, the number of Kiwis waiting more than a year for surgery had blown out to more than 6000 people.

On Thursday, $118 million was allocated to reduce waiting lists and the Government's given itself a target.

By 30 June 2024, it expects no patients to be waiting longer than 12 months for treatment, from the date a treatment decision is made. But this goal does not include orthopaedic patients who need hips and knees.

"We've clearly got work to do around reducing our waitlists and I know that Te Whatu Ora are very, very focused on that," said Prime Minister Hipkins.

Amelia Wade Analysis

Not only does the Government's prescription policy level the playing field for small pharmacies who were up against the big dogs offering free prescriptions.

The Government says it identified 15,000 Kiwis over a year who didn't fill prescriptions because of the cost and when people take their medicine, they're less likely to end up needing a GP or hospital care for an avoidable illness which will help to ease pressure on the system.

But it's not just the elderly or unwell who need regular prescriptions, it's women on contraception who need scripts filled regularly and that $5 fee is either a barrier or a real annoyance.

The free prescriptions kick in on July 1 so National's now been backed into having to campaign on being the party which would make women have to start paying for their contraception prescriptions again.

Coupled with the extension of 20 hours free early childcare education, this prescription play is all part of Labour's layered manoeuvre for women's votes.