Election 2020: Millions more for Pharmac and dental care in Labour’s $1 billion health plan

Labour is promising to invest millions more in drug-buying agency Pharmac and emergency dental care if it forms the government after the election.

The party is also planning to roll out a big reform of the health system, which will include cutting the number of DHBs and creating a long-awaited Māori Health Authority

Labour leader Jacinda Ardern and health spokesperson Chris Hipkins promised a $200 million funding boost for Pharmac over the next four years, as part of the party’s health policy, in Manukau on Tuesday morning.

Ardern, speaking to reporters, said Labour had been working to rebuild the health system, and would be focused on dental care for people on low incomes if given another term in government.

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Jacinda Ardern has promised a $200 million funding boost for Pharmac.

Ryan Anderson/Stuff

Jacinda Ardern has promised a $200 million funding boost for Pharmac.

Ardern said she was concerned that not all children were accessing full, free dental care, hence the party wanted to expand the number of mobile dental clinics.

“Most people going to their dentist are often triggered by dental pain.

“Our approach to dental care is starting with children, for the very reason that dental care as a child often determines dental health as an adult.”

Ardern said was proud of the Government’s record of funding Pharmac, and her party’s intent was to continue this.

Pharmac bulk buys pharmaceuticals for New Zealanders. The funding increase will likely mean more medicines can be purchased through Pharmac, lowering their cost.

“While Pharmac’s purchasing decisions are at arm’s length from the government, when we provided a $60 million boost to their budget in 2019 it resulted in a range of new medicines – including several new cancer treatments – being funded, and we would anticipate a similar result from this extra investment,” Hipkins said.

The Pharmac funding was the centrepiece of Labour’s $1 billion health policy announcement, alongside a $176m policy to increase emergency dental health grants for people on low incomes from $300 to $1000.

The party also firmed up a promise to implement a fairly radical reform of the health system, although it provided little in the way of further detail about how these reforms would be implemented.

In its first term Labour announced a review of the health and disability system, chaired by Helen Clark’s former chief of staff, Heather Simpson.

Simpson recommended reducing the number of DHBs, creating a health agency, and a Māori Health Authority. At the time the review finished, Labour was broadly happy with the recommendations, in particular cutting the number of DHBs.

On Tuesday, Hipkins confirmed those key recommendations would be a focus for Labour if the party wins a second term.

“A central focus of a returned Labour Government will be the roll out of our plan to improve the public health system to deliver high-quality services, fewer DHBs, an increased focus on equity, a Māori Health Authority that will focus on Māori health, an aged care commissioner and a Public Health Agency that will more closely link the country’s 12 public health units,” Hipkins said.

However, there are no details yet of which DHBs would get the axe, or details of how that reformed health system would look, apart from the $120m funding the party has given for the additional bureaucracy represented by the health agency and the Māori Health Authority.

The party said the Māori Health Authority would “work in collaboration with tangata whenua in establishing a Māori Health Authority built on principles of Te Tiriti and that encapsulates matauranga Māori in its decision-making”.

The Māori Health Authority was a contentious part of the Heather Simpson review, as most people on the review panel including Māori experts wanted to give the Māori Health Authority extensive commissioning powers, something Simpson herself didn’t recommend.

Ardern said detail over the extent of the Authority’s powers were still yet to be worked out.

“Some of those issues still need to be worked through. We have broadly accepted the principles of the review – the need for the agency – but some of that additional detail will be worked through if we’re in the position to form a government,” she said.

The party’s promised health agency will change the way that healthcare looks in New Zealand, but shifting some power away from DHBs and the Ministry of Health.

The party’s policy doesn’t provide much detail on this, but it says the agency will provide “national leadership and consistency around all core aspects of public health, including health protection, health promotion, and screening”.

Other policy highlights include $200m over four years to reduce planned care waiting lists, and a promise to double the number of cochlear implants to 160 a year.

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