While New Zealand continues to pursue the big-picture goal of improving the affordability and accessibility of medicines, down on the day-to-day level, pharmacists are left dealing with implications of our current situation: having shelves stacked with uncollected scripts, seeing patients unable to complete their eftpos transactions due to the shortage of funds, or turning away upon hearing the total cost of the prescription if the medicine they need to maintain their health is not subsidised.
Subsidised Medicines Still Stack Up
Despite the out-of-pocket cost of approved medicines in New Zealand reducing to $5 under a subsidised co-payment system, the fee still adds up. A National Health Survey found that approximately 1 in 20 adults fail to collect their prescriptions due to cost, jumping to up to 14% for Maori and Pacifica adults. Women are collecting less prescriptions than men, as are those aged under 65 years compared to over 65, and as for adults living in the most socioeconomically deprived areas, they are six times more likely to be unable to collect a prescription due to cost than those in the least deprived areas. For families with multiple medical needs for multiple family members, the result can be devastating – and simply unsustainable.
A news report detailing the events leading to the blackout and fall of a 30-year-old woman in Wellington describes how the damage she sustained is leaving her paying $5 for her first 20 subsidised prescriptions of the year before government funding kicks in to assist, on a benefit of $530 per week with no additional income. Given that her rent alone takes up half of her benefit, the cost of the medicines quickly adds up and becomes difficult to manage with her limited means – and she’s not alone. When discussing her situation, her response to the circumstances was that “there are people out there who are on far less than me”. For these individuals and many others, an alternative way to access medicines when they are required – and not when it’s too late – is clearly needed.
Not All Medicines Are Funded
While many are left struggling to find a way to afford subsidised medications, there’s another group of New Zealanders faced with an impossible question: do I get the latest medication for my condition and go into debt, or do I go without and potentially suffer the consequences?
According to the 2019 International Comparisons of Modern Medicines report, New Zealanders have the worst access to funded modern medicines out of the OECD nations reviewed, having to pay themselves for the latest drugs for some cancers, Crohn’s disease, cystic fibrosis, and diabetes – which is affecting New Zealand in “epidemic proportions”. For these people, their prescriptions may cost hundreds of dollars each time they visit the pharmacy (if they want to access the latest medication), which may see them delay or avoid caring for their health and wellbeing.
Some medicines may also only be partially funded, leaving a greater out-of-pocket cost. Other reasons for raised prescription costs include the use of blister packaging, prescription faxing, out-of-hours charges, and for some services, having medicines delivered.
Medicines Stack On Top Of GP Costs
Before a prescription can even be filled and paid for, New Zealanders must first have the means to attend an appointment with their GP, something that is easier said than done when considering the cost. During 2019-2020, 16% of kiwi women and just under 11% of men avoided seeing their GP when they needed to, due to the cost. In Maori adults, this figure jumped to 20.5%.
Many medicines also require a blood test to confirm a diagnosis first before a prescription can be made, such as checking thyroid hormone levels in the blood prior to prescribing thyroid medication. This leaves many bearing the cost of not one but two GP visits, with the second to discuss the blood test results and create a treatment plan that includes getting the prescription, before adding the cost of collecting the prescription.
Pharmacists Are Stepping In To Help Make Prescriptions Affordable
To help address this problem, pharmacies across the country are now taking matters into their own hands and giving health consumers a way to better manage the cost of their prescriptions – a buy now, pay later (BNPL) platform designed specifically for healthcare called HealthNow.
By offering the HealthNow service at the point of sale, New Zealanders can now delay paying the full upfront cost of their prescriptions and healthcare products purchased from the pharmacy, from life-changing medications to their vitamins, with no fees or interest. Consumers use the app to split the cost of their bill into multiple payments, choosing how many weeks they’d like to pay it off over, up to a maximum of six weeks. The pharmacy gets paid in full by HealthNow the day the medications are purchased.
Unlike other BNPL platforms that add fees, interest or have been described as being “problematic” due to being unregulated, HealthNow ensures the cost of your entire bill remains completely unaffected, standing apart from other services that would disadvantage those that are trying to take care of their health and wellbeing. HealthNow also meets a higher level of regulatory compliance to ensure that it operates with social responsibility.
Collect Your Family’s Prescriptions, Every Time
HealthNow is currently being used across pharmacies, GP practices and a range of health services across New Zealand. Register free today by downloading the app. You can also check out HealthNow’s full benefits and features, including a health wallet to store funds set aside for health services that can be contributed to by others including your employer.