22 Apr 2015

Under-13s free medical care available - Minister

9:48 am on 22 April 2015

The Minister of Health has rejected criticism that not all children under 13 can get free medical care.

 Doctor with a stethoscope writing on a clipboard.

Photo: RNZ / Diego Opatowski

The Government promised at last year's election to make all doctors' visits free for primary school-aged children from July this year - but ACC Minister Nikki Kaye has provided only enough funding to cover 90 percent of visits for injured children.

But Health Minister Jonathon Coleman said all injured children would be able to access free doctors visits from July.

"I am advising people that their child will be able to get a free GP consultation if they're under 13," he said.

Mr Coleman said parents should "ask at the (doctor's) desk what the price is" and find another doctor if they charge.

'Simply not possible'

Jonathan Coleman.

Jonathan Coleman. Photo: RNZ

It is advice that has been described as pathetic, astonishing and just plain ridiculous by disbelieving health spokespeople for Opposition political parties.

Green Party health spokesperson Kevin Hague said he just could not believe the Minister of Health would say such a thing.

"The Minister's response is simply astounding and also pathetic; this is not actually what the Government promised the parents of kids at the budget time last year or during the election campaign," he said.

"In most parts of the country, it is simply not possible just to shift from one practice to another."

Labour health spokesperson Annette King said she was gobsmacked that the Health Minister recommended injured children be driven around until they could find a free doctor.

"I'm astonished that the Minister of Health made that claim. If you're taking your child to the GP because there's something you're worried about, then you just do not go shopping around looking for a free doctor," she said.

"No matter how they cut it, this is a broken promise."

Debate over top-up

Cabinet papers obtained by the Green Party show the ACC Minister decided against providing full coverage for injured children.

Ms Kaye set the ACC's top-up level of funding at $24 per visit - knowing that 10 percent of children would still have to pay. The documents make it clear Cabinet knew the top-up would "not fully meet the objective of free visit coverage".

But Dr Coleman disputed the nature of the information the Government used to form the policy, and said the Government was fully funding ACC visits for injured children.

"No, you're wrong [that 10 percent of injured children will have to pay] - that's a modelling figure. You're incorrect on that."

Once again, Mr Hague said he could not believe the Health Minister's claims.

"Minister Coleman and Minister Kaye seem to be telling different stories about this," he said.

"It is absolutely crystal clear from the advice given by officials that the Minister [Kaye] knew and understood that what she was signing up to was a rate of payment that would see 10 percent of kids not receiving that free care."

The Government said about 400,000 primary-school-aged children would benefit from its free doctor visit policy.

Extracts from documents obtained by Mr Hague under the Official Information Act (OIA)

Advice to the ACC Minister:

ACC Minister Nikki Kaye:

Read the documents (PDF, 7.6MB)