New funding initiatives by the Government to reduce general practice fees by $20-30 for Community Service Card holders come into effect from tomorrow.

On December 1 the current free fees for children initiative will also be extended to 13-year-olds meaning another 56,000 children can see their GP or nurse practitioner (NP) for free.

The cheaper GP fees are estimated to cost $58.6m in 2018-19 and rise to $100m a year in 2019-20 and extending the child free scheme will cost nearly $5m a year.

Labour had promised pre-election to cut the cost of visiting a general practice for all adults by $10 from July 1 this year. But this was rolled-back in the Budget in May to extending access to very low-cost GP visits from December this year to the expanded number of people now eligible for a Community Services Card – an estimated up to 540,000 people.

Health Minister Dr David Clark said in August that he would have liked to scale up cheaper fees for all Kiwis as fast as possible and had delayed it not only for fiscal reasons but also that general practice workforce issues needed to be addressed so the sector could cope with the likely increase in demand if all adults got access to cheaper fees simultaneously.

The 540,000 estimated people eligible for Community Service Cards (CSCs) includes an extra 80,000 newly eligible people who receive an accommodation supplement or income-related rent subsidy.

The scheme was launched today by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and the health minister at Island Bay Medical Centre which has 1200 CSC holders enrolled who will now pay less than $20 per visit.

Clark said last year more than half a million people didn’t got to their GP because of the cost which was a ‘shocking number’. “Not only will cheaper doctors visits mean more people will be able to afford to get the care they need, that will mean many health issues can be identified and treated early before they become major problems requiring hospital treatment.”

He thanked the primary health sector for their hard work in preparing for the rollout of the policy.

Ardern said she proud that the Government had mad cost less of a barrier to hundreds of thousands of Kiwis and added that extending free visits to 13 years was a “big step” towards its goal of making New Zealand “the best place in the world to be a child”.

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