Challenges to equitable access to medicines
University of Auckland
11 June 2014
Challenges to equitable access to medicines
Access to medicines by vulnerable groups in the community, increasing medicine costs, and the demand for new medicines
are some of the challenges identified in an independent study of priority medicine policy issues in New Zealand.
The study, led by Dr Zaheer-Ud-Din Babar from the University of Auckland’s School of Pharmacy, also identified issues
with access to prescribers, budgetary constraints, cultural and health literacy, patient medicine affordability and the
evidence required for gaining subsidy for medicines.
These findings come from the first independent study to identify medicine policy issues in New Zealand. The study
consulted 20 stakeholder groups from a broad range of healthcare and policy institutions.
“While overall there was reasonable satisfaction with the availability of subsidised medicines, there were some major
challenges”, says Dr Babar.
“In the context of PHARMAC's fixed budget for procuring and subsidising medicines, there was reasonable satisfaction
with the range of medicines available—rare disorder medicines being the clear exception,” he says. “There were concerns
raised about the decision making process and whether desired health outcomes are being measured.”
“Despite attempts to improve the situation, there are challenges of access to medicines for people in lower
socio-economic groups, Māori and Pacific Island people and those with rare disorders,” says Dr Babar.
Other barriers to access to medicines included convenience to and affordability of prescribers, and the increase of
prescription fees from NZ$3 to NZ$5.
“The study shows that low socio-economic groups, (encompassing Māori and Pacifica people) were continuing to have access
issues related to financial, structural, educational and cultural barriers,” he says.
Concerns relating to PHARMAC included budget constraints, a lack of transparency of in-house analysis, and a lack of
consistency in recommendations between the Pharmacology and Therapeutics Advisory Committees.
“Constraints and inefficiencies also exist in the submission process to access high-cost medicines,” says Dr Babar.
The study identified many of the reservations held by healthcare groups about the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement
(TPPA) and its impact on Pharmac and the availability of high cost medicines.
“There was concern from stakeholders that already ‘big amounts’ are being spent on healthcare and the ‘benefits are low’
and if there was a resultant increase in the cost of medicines, where the resources would come from to offset any cost
increases,” he says.
“Very few participants were familiar with the TPPA,” says Dr Babar. “There was scepticism voiced about the driving force
behind the agreement and what the benefits would be for NZ when the USA was a heavily subsidised protected market.”
“Most participants considered that New Zealand’s ability to access generic medicines or independence in procuring
medicines should be upheld,” says Dr Babar. “If not, funds may need to be redirected from other services, or patient
co-payments would need to rise, to compensate a likely increase in the cost of medicines.”
The full study report is available at this link
Notes to Editors (From the study report)
Just under 83% (82.7%) of health expenditure in New Zealand is publicly funded.
New Zealand's health and disability budget at the starting of this research is NZ$13.983 billion.
In comparison with other OECD countries, as a percentage of total expenditure on health, New Zealand spends less on
pharmaceuticals. Approximately NZ$795 million and NZ$280 million are available for procuring community/cancer and
hospital pharmaceuticals, respectively. This compares with a reported estimated spend of NZ$880 million on medical
Approximately 1848 medicines are subsidised by PHARMAC, as listed on its Pharmaceutical Schedule, for use in the
community and are largely accessible via prescription from a medical doctor.
Medicines make a significant contribution to health outcomes.
In 2007, ‘Medicines New Zealand’ New Zealand's medicines policy, was launched in response to access concerns from the
public.The aim of the policy is to promote quality, effective and optimally used medicines. To guide decisions, the
policy states principles of affordability, equity and need.
Medicines New Zealand aims to ensure that the decisions made about prioritisation and funding are as transparent as
possible, understood and open to debate.