It sounds like Northland GPs have become extraordinarily beneficent, freely giving their time for the welfare of their young patients.
That’s certainly implied by a headline on the Herald website today:
Free kids’ visits rolled out in Northland.
The report explains that on October 1, Northland became the only region in the country to roll out free general practitioner visits, after-hours consultations and prescription fees for children between 6 and 12 years old.
While it will be implemented nationally next year, Northland health organisations chose to start the service early.
The newspaper hacks have proceeded to flush out some of the folk who will benefit from this scheme. Cara Collins’ family, for example
… will have one less bill to pay now healthcare for her two youngest sons is free.
Ms Collins is a single mum with three kids.
For the past four years her son Dimitrious had been sick with allergies and regularly goes to the family’s GP at a cost of $25 a visit once he turned 6.
“I’m still paying off those winter doctor bills,” Ms Collins said.
“It’ll save a lot of money”.
It will save her a lot of money.
But this medical stuff is not free.
The taxpayers will be picking up the tab.
The government announced back in May that from July 1, 2015, children between 6 and 12 will be given “free” GP visits, which now applies only to children 5 and under.
But for the next nine months, until the government’s policy starts, the bill in Northland will be picked up by Northland District Health Board, Te Tai Tokerau Primary Health Organisation and Manaia Health PHO.
The Herald website puts the cost of this policy at around $450,000 and says it will affect 16,173 children.
The chief executive of Te Tai Tokerau PHO, Rose Lightfoot, said the community feedback she had received has been positive.
“People have been really pleased about it,” she said.
And so they bloody well should be.
But the policy was not officially announced until today because the organisations involved wanted to make sure there were no teething problems.
Teething problems, of course, raise the matter of oral health.
Visits to the dentist are “free”, too, until Kiwis turn 18.
After that, most people have to pay the full cost of treatment – and quickly learn that dentists know how to drill into a family’s income as deftly as they drill into our teeth.
Labour had plans to lighten the burden on patients.
Whereas the Key Government extended free doctors’ visits and prescriptions for children aged under six to all children aged under 13 from July next year, during the election campaign Labour pledged to have the policy take effect after the election, should it be able to form a Government.
Labour also would provide “free” dental care to pregnant women.
A Radio NZ report said:
Labour estimates that providing free doctors visits, prescriptions, and dental care for pregnant women would cost $10.4 million a year.It says providing free doctors visits and prescriptions for over-65s would cost $120 million a year.
Labour would also extend the Care Plus programme so that a further 250,000 New Zealanders with long-term health conditions can get free GP visits and prescriptions.
It estimates this extension would cost $90 million per year.
It is also pledging to invest an extra $60 million into primary healthcare.
As those figures make plain, all this free health care stuff is not as “free” as people are led to believe.