The head of a Northland primary health organisation says pharmacists are picking up the tab for increased prescription costs when patients can't afford to pay.
Chris Farrelly, the chief executive of Manaia PHO, says since the Government cut the prescription subsidy on 1 January 2013 and the cost went up from $3 to $5, poorer Northland families have been going without medication.
He says they either don't pick up the prescription at all or wait until they can afford it.
Mr Farrelly says many Northland pharmacists are not charging those patients, rather than see them suffer.
"Medical centres and pharmacies have been very generous in New Zealand, caring and treating and foregoing payment. And they should not - these are businesses - and we see every year huge write-offs from bad debt.
"Now, that bad debt is a barrier to often the family taking a child to either a centre or a pharmacy."
Mr Farrelly says 60% of Northland children live in poverty and multiple prescriptions can blow the family budget.