By Will Trafford of Whakaata Maori
The National party is being slammed for a policy it admits would reintroduce $5 prescription costs for those on the pill, or other contraception drugs.
The move is a response to the government’s budget decision to eliminate the $5 prescription fees last month.
The restructuring, estimated to cost around $154 million per year, will see free prescriptions from July 1.
Nats leader Christopher Luxon told Newshub yesterday he is open to considering exemptions for Gold Card holders and low-income earners with Community Services cards, but made it clear that regular contraception users, and prescription holders in general, will go back to paying the fee.
“We don’t want to see any change … We are making sure we can help people who desperately need help with their prescription charges. We want a targeted approach,” Luxon said on Wednesday.
“What we’re trying to say is we’re targeting it really clear to people who are in desperate need. And if people are in that criteria and they actually need help and support to do that then we should definitely support them doing that.”
National Party leader Christopher Luxon says his party will reimpose $5 prescription fees removed by Labour in last month's budget if elected in October. Photo / Alex Cairns
Health Minister Dr Ayesha Verrall took the opportunity to lampoon the opposition in an email seeking additional funding for Labour’s election campaign last night, calling the Luxon announcement “outrageous.
“Christopher Luxon today told reporters that if elected, National would increase fees for people who need contraception - showing the world that he’s even more out of touch than we already knew.” Verrall wrote.
“Polling shows that this year’s election hangs on a knife-edge. It’s very close, and the prospect of Christopher Luxon becoming Prime Minister of a National-ACT Coalition of Cuts is frighteningly real. Please give anything you can today to our campaign, and help keep the Coalition of Cuts out of government.” Verrall added.
Luxon’s announcement has also been slammed as tone-deaf by a number of advocacy groups.
The National announcement was revealing “Luxon’s true colours” according to a release by Erin Jackson, Director of Project Gender.
“It is incredibly disappointing today to hear that Christopher Luxon as leader of the National Party does not consider access to contraception as a ‘high medical need’ and clearly does not appreciate that removing the barriers to accessing contraception is essential not only for the sexual health and wellbeing of New Zealanders but also to uphold reproductive rights in this country,” Jackson said.
Dr Ayesha Verrall in her Beehive office. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Chair of NZ Women in Medicine, Dr Orna McGinn, staunchly critiqued the policy, saying wāhine face a number of gendered health taxes, including having to pay for their cervical screening, contraception, and ultrasound scans in pregnancy.
She says a rollback of the labour policy would erode women’s right to reproductive autonomy and exacerbate existing inequalities.
“All available evidence points to the fact that contraception is one of the most effective health interventions we have.” McGinn said.
“Data from the UK and US shows that every dollar spent on contraception is recouped up to ten times over, by reducing the chance of unintended pregnancy, abortion and poor health outcomes for hapū mama and pepi”.
“Cost is a barrier to access in Aotearoa and any move which mitigates this, including the removal of the prescription fee for oral contraception, is welcome.” McGinn added.
Verrall says a National rollback of the government policy will also affect other illnesses.
“Medicines for mental health, epilepsy and other conditions are also essential. They’re not nice to haves,” Dr Verrall said.
Family Planning’s chief executive, Jackie Edmond, previously welcomed the elimination of prescription fees, stating that it would improve rangatahi access to contraception.
“For young people in particular, a prescription fee can mean the difference between picking up medication, or not.
“When it comes to critical medication like contraception, we want to remove every barrier we can and we believe that removing this fee will make a difference.”
Take your Radio, Podcasts and Music with you