New Zealand's Ministry of Health has released research that shows Primary Health Organisation (PHO) family doctor visits have become more affordable for half the country's population.
A summary of key findings from five reports shows that before implementation of the Primary Health Care Strategy, there were clearly identified cost barriers to people getting general practitioner (GP) care.
Those most likely to be put off from visiting a GP because of cost were those living in areas of high deprivation, Mâori and Pacific people.
Ministry spokesman Dr Jim Primrose said recent analysis of GP fees has confirmed that visits to Access-funded PHO practices – those with 50 percent or more low-income, Mâori or Pacific peoples on their register – cost significantly less than fees charged by Interim-funded PHO practices.
"The overall key findings show that Access-funded practice fees are lower even for those age groups – school-age children and those aged 65 years and older – for whom Interim-funded PHO practices are receiving similar levels of captitation funding," he said.
"This supports the Government's decision to start implementing the Primary Health Care Strategy by making sure extra funding goes first to those PHOs who serve populations of people facing the greatest financial barriers to care."
There are 73 PHOs covering about 3.57 million New Zealanders around the country. Of these, about 1.08 million can get primary health care from Access-funded practices. However, the total number of people who can get low or reduced-cost care through their PHO practice rises to 2.04 million when the children and older age groups visiting Interim-funded practices are taken into account.
Dr Primrose noted that the National GP Fees Survey carried out in February this year shows that 82 percent of the practices surveyed did not charge children aged under six for standard consultations. Overall, the average charge for these children was $1.59.
This survey also shows that Interim-funded practice fees for 6 to 17 year olds who didn't have a Community Services Card (CSC) reduced on average by about $22 compared with unsubsidised adults in PHOs. For CSC holders aged 6 to 17, the reduction was $24.50.
Extra Government funding became available to Interim-funded practices from 1 October 2003, to help lower costs for children aged 6 to 17. There are now about 422,300 youngsters in this age group who are covered by Interim practices.
From 1 July this year, funding was increased by about $47 million to help reduce doctor's fees in Interim practices for people aged 65 years and older.
Dr Primrose said analysis shows that on average, Interim PHOs reduced fees for their non-CSC holding senior citizens by $23.40. The average fee charged to those over 65 years was $24.65, although there were wide variations in different District Health Board (DHB) areas.