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Pharmac budget boosted, new drugs floated

NZ Newswire logoNZ Newswire 6/05/2017

The government's drug-buying agency has proposed funding a treatment for asbestos-linked lung cancer and earlier access to drugs for HIV patients as it gets a boost in this year's budget.

But the opposition says the government is just playing catch-up with funding and using DHB money.

Health Minister Dr Jonathan Coleman on Sunday announced the government would be putting an extra $20 million into Pharmac's budget this year, taking it to a total $870m - up $220m since 2008.

The agency will also get $11m extra from DHB budgets for the year, along with a total $60m top-up over four years.

The announcement came as Pharmac unveiled a list of 38 proposals for funding changes, including five new treatments.

They include: Melatonin, tablets for children with neurodevelopmental disorders who have insomnia; Pemetrexed, a treatment for aggressive lung cancer caused primarily by asbestos; and Sildenafil, a treatment for hypertension in children, among others.

It's also proposed a long list of changes to existing treatment funding, including earlier access to four HIV anti-retrovirals - affecting about 3000 people a year - and giving more people access to a potentially curative treatment for hepatitis C.

Overall the changes are expected to affect about 33,000 people.

"We've included proposals to make better use of existing treatments - changes that are often suggested by prescribers to remove administrative hurdles for treating their patients," Pharmac chief Steffan Crausaz said.

The proposed changes take effect on July 1.

Dr Coleman said the proposals would be life-change for some people.

"These changes would in some cases save lives, in others they would dramatically improve the quality of life of the individual as well as their family," he said.

Labour health spokesman David Clark said the funding was well overdue, and said Pharmac's budget had been virtually frozen from 2013 to 2016.

"Today's announcement is the start of catch up for its neglect," he said.

"The government is expecting already cash-strapped DHBs to further reduce services in order to part-fund this election year announcement.

"When you dig into the numbers, some of this funding is a top-up required to stop Pharmac cutting services due to previous underfunding for budget out-years."

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