Two new studies carried out by researchers at the University of Otago show that being unable to afford prescription medicine can damage people’s health.
Associate Professor Santosh Jatrana, lead author of the study, who is currently at Deakin University in Australia, states that although only a minority of people are unable to afford prescription medicine in New Zealand, these people’s health is harmed.
The researchers found, using a Statistics New Zealand longitudinal survey, that people who lived in poorer parts of New Zealand, were sole parents, are Maori and Pacific people and who were more materially deprived, were less likely to be able to afford prescription medicine. In addition, young people were also less likely to be able to afford prescription medicine than people over the age of 65.
Published in BMJ Open, the study found that both women and men’s health suffered but that the effect was greater on men’s health. The effect was also greater for those under the age of 65 than those over the age of 65.
Published in Research in Social and Administrative Pharmacy, the second study included interviews with people who were unable to afford prescription medicine.
In New Zealand, prescription medicine charges are only $5 per prescription item, but the researchers state that for those with several health issues, these charges can quickly add up. For people with low incomes they may present an overwhelming barrier. New Zealanders appear to be going without prescription medicine that is vital to staying healthy.
In this study, participants reported picking up only some medicines and missing out on others, going without prescription medicine until they were able to afford them, or changing to cheaper, less healthy food, and cutting down on other essential items such as electricity, so that they could afford prescription medicine.
People went without vital medicines for their physical health issues so that they could pick up prescription medicine for mental health and parents went without medicine so that their children could have medicine.
Professor Pauline Norris, study author, states that people who are unable to afford their prescription medicine have no choice but to treat their prescriptions like a shopping list, and only collect the medicine they can afford on the day.
Professor Norris states that while charges in New Zealand are low compared to several other countries, everyone who is 13 years and older has to pay.
There is no exemption for patients who have multiple health problems and low incomes. Professor Norris added that both studies are strong arguments for providing prescription medicine for free to certain groups of people, in order to address health inequalities.