18 May 2018

Cheaper GP visits will need publicity - medical centre

6:41 am on 18 May 2018

There will have to be a lot of publicity to make sure low-income earners know about cheaper doctor visits, a Wellington health centre is warning.

A medical professional takes notes while talking to a female patient.

Photo: 123RF

Half a million people will soon be able to visit the doctor for less, after yesterday's Budget announced GP visits will be slashed by up to $30 for Community Services Card holders.

Anyone living in state housing or receiving the accommodation supplement will now also be eligible for a card.

An estimated 53,000 more children will be able to go for no cost at all, as the age for free visits rises from 13 to 14.

The changes will take effect from 1 December.

But Fiona Osten, who manages the Newtown Union Health Service in Wellington, said people who could not afford to go to the doctor would not be taking much notice of budget announcements, and could miss out.

"There should be a targeted campaign around this. It'd be great for it to be all over TV, or on buses and in WINZ [Work and Income New Zealand] offices so that people visiting WINZ services know that the doctor's much more affordable," she said.

Ms Osten said cost was the main barrier people did not visit a doctor and hoped the funding would encourage people to seek medical help earlier.

"Particularly for people managing long-term problems who might need to go to the doctor a bit more often, it means these people can keep going for that care ... more preventative rather than just the acute instances."

The widening of the threshold to qualify for a Community Services Card was also a good move, she said.

"The threshold is quite low and you only have to earn $5 more and you can't get the card so by widening that it recognises that there is a group of people out there that are working really hard.

"So this is going to target a new group of people that aren't accessing care at the moment, which is really important."