Election 2020: NZ First promises to expand free dental care, free counselling

NZ First has joined the major parties in promising a health policy centred on dental care and Pharmac spending.

But the party has made a more ambitious pitch, seeking to expand of free dental care to people 25 years and younger and SuperGold card holders, a funding boost for Pharmac that includes a $30 million “specific rare disorders medicine fund”, and $10m for free counselling.

NZ First leader Winston Peters announced the party’s health policy while in Rotorua on Monday, saying dental decay “is our most common chronic disease with 1.6 million New Zealanders not obtaining dental care due to cost”.

NZ First leader Winston Peters announces his party's dental policy in Rotorua on Monday.


NZ First leader Winston Peters announces his party’s dental policy in Rotorua on Monday.

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“We’re committing to halt preventable dental disease which can impact chronic conditions such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and kidney disease,” he said.

Peters arrived in Rotorua on his large party bus – but carrying just two other people. He said he “would be picking up three more on the way” out of town.

Speaking to 120 attendees, the rhetoric was the same lines Peters has been hammering on the campaign trail. He touted the party’s role as the insurance against whoever got the highest party vote.

He told the crowd his party wanted free dental care, currently provided to children up to 18-years, to be provided to 25-years-old, and people with community service or SuperGold cards.

NZ First also wanted to increase the Government’s drug-buying agency, Pharmac, funding to 1.4 per cent of GDP by 2023 – which it says would be in line with the OECD average.

Over 65s would receive a free annual eye-check, under the policy, and $10m in funding would be provided to mental health advocate Mike King’s I Am Hope trust for free counselling sessions.

Other talking points included: a bailout of the St John ambulance service, Peters’ dislike of the media, and his dislike of the ACT party. He also took a swing at Judith Collins’ decision to pray ahead of voting on Sunday.

“I’m delighted that Judith has had a real Road to Damascus experience and hither to it’ll be shown in her new social and economic policies, because up until now there’s been no evidence of it,” Peters said.

Both Pharmac funding and dental have become a key election issues for political parties.

Labour has promised more dental clinics and grants for low-income and high-needs communities, and has promised a $200m funding boost to the agency, the centrepiece of its $1 billion health policy.

Labour leader Jacinda Ardern agreed alongside National leader Judith Collins during a leaders debate that the agency should be reviewed in the Government’s next term.

National has promised a further $35m a year for Pharmac, and a $30m a year dental policy called Tamariki Niho Ora – MySmile, which includes an oral health education programme and funding an annual dental health pack for children age three to 13 years.

Peters said a free annual eye test for over 65-year-olds was in the current Labour-NZ First Government’s coalition agreement.

“We’ve announced funding for the annual health check in Budget 2020 but need to secure the eye test. This is another preventative measure to halt preventable disease and improve health outcomes,” he said.

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