Health minister Pete HodgsonMonday 27 August 2007, 3:13PM
Media release from health minister Pete Hodgson
More families are set to benefit from free doctor's visits for
their children aged under six following an $8.25 million investment
by the Labour-led government, Health Minister Pete Hodgson
The funding will be rolled out from 1 January and is a result of
Labour's agreement with New Zealand First to work towards the
objective of free health care for under sixes. It will be
made available each year to practices that commit to providing free
care for children under six.
"The Labour-led government believes that all children deserve the
best possible start in life," Pete Hodgson said. "We don't
want any parent to think twice about taking their young child to
the doctor because of how much it costs.
"The majority of general practices already charge no fees for
children under six and we want to make sure those practices are
getting the support they need. We also hope that some
practices charging very low fees will see the funding as extra
incentive to reduce their fees to zero."
61 per cent of general practices currently charge no fees for
children under six, making the median fee $0. Average fees do
vary across the country, but at a national level the average is
still low at $5.
The under-sixes initiative is one part of the Labour-led
government's major drive to lower the cost of primary health care
for all New Zealanders. As a result of the seven year, $2.2
billion Primary Health Care Strategy, the cost of seeing the doctor
has fallen by around half and standard prescription charges have
been reduced from $15 to $3.
This has resulted in significant annual savings for New Zealand
families, with the average family health bill falling from $940 to
$440 a year.
The announcement of today's initiative is also part of a wider
cross-government programme focussing on the needs of young
children, including 20 hours free early childhood education and the
B4 school health checks announced just last week.
Pete Hodgson thanked NZ First for their partnership in bringing
this important goal closer.
Questions and answers
What percentage of practices currently provide free care to
children under six? Currently 61 percent of practices
provide free standard consultations to children under six - and as
a result of the under sixes initiative we expect the percentage to
As a result of this scheme, will all practices provide free
care for under sixes? No. This is a voluntary
scheme. In order to receive this extra funding, practices
commit each quarter to providing free standard consultations to
children under six. Some practices will choose not to
participate - but we believe a high proportion will so that
families of young children will have access to a practice that does
provide free care to under sixes.
What happened to the previous government's policy to
introduce a free under sixes policy? On 1 July 1997, a
general medical services (GMS) subsidy of $32.50 for children under
six was introduced. Although widely known as the "free under
sixes policy" at no stage did all practices charge zero fees to
under sixes. Practices retained their right to set their own
fees. However, a high proportion did provide free standard
As a result of the extra investment by the Labour-led government,
which is available only to those practices that commit to providing
free care to under sixes, we expect a higher proportion of
practices to provide free standard consultations.
Unlike the previous government, this government has annually
adjusted capitation funding to PHOs to maintain value so that the
current funding on a per notional visit basis is $39.70 - and now
PHO practices who commit to providing free care to under sixes will
receive an additional $6 per visit - bringing the government's
contribution up to around $45.70 per notional visit.
What did Labour and New Zealand First agree after the
election about free primary health care for all under six year
olds? The Labour-led government's Confidence and Supply
Agreement with New Zealand First states it will "actively work
towards the objective of having free primary health care for all
under six year olds". This Under Sixes initiative
demonstrates a real commitment from Government to achieving free
primary care for under sixes. In return for providing this
extra funding, the Government requires a commitment from practices
to provide free consultations for children under six.
Will after hours visits for under sixes be free
too? The under sixes initiative applies to standard
consultations during normal hours only so practices participating
in the Under Sixes initiative can still charge for after hours
consultations (that is, after the usual hours the practice is open)
for children under six.
Apart from not charging for standard consultations for
children under six, are their any other requirements for practices
to receive this extra money? As with the Very Low Cost
Access initiative, a prerequisite of eligibility for the Under
Sixes payment will be that the PHO is participating in the PHO
performance programme. One of the current PHO performance
measures relates to immunisation (children fully vaccinated by
their second birthday). This measure includes a high needs
indicator to focus on reducing inequalities. Another
prerequisite is that the PHO has signed the latest version of their
PHO Service Agreement.
What is the relationship between the Under Sixes initiative
and the Very Low Cost Access initiative? PHO practices
that participate in the Very Low Cost Access scheme already provide
free care for children under six - in return for 20 percent
increase on capitation (from 1 October 2007)
Very Low Cost Access practices receive a higher rate than those
practices participating in the Under Sixes initiative because in
addition to free care for children 0-5, they have to commit to very
low fees for all other age groups - $10.50 for children 6-17 years
and $15.50 for adults 18 years and over. PHOs receiving Very
Low Cost Access payments cannot receive the Under Sixes payments as