Labour has gazumped National’s plan for cheaper doctors’ visits, announcing plans to cut all GP fees by $10 per visit, with the cheapest for adults being cut from $18 to $8. Bernard Hickey reports.

Labour has pledged to spend almost three times more than National on reducing fees for doctor’s visits and extending access to the cheapest visits at Very Low Cost Access (VLCA) practices. Labour’s $8 visits for adults and $2 for teenagers at these practices compares with the $18 cost promised by National. Labour is also promising to cut doctor’s fees by $10 per visit at other more expensive practices, which National has not promised.

Elsewhere, National launched a new television advertisement featuring a group of National party runners that were contrasted with a rag-tag set of opposition stragglers and stumblers. An obvious echo of National’s ad from 2014 showing a blue rowing eight vs a chaotic dinghy, the advertisement was criticised for not having Winston Peters running with the team, for appearing to show one of the runners playfully pulling another’s ponytail, and for having used a filter that turns their blue shirts into a teal colour.

There are 28 days to go until the election. Winston Peters has pledged to decide who will be in Government by October 12.

Cheaper doctors visits

Labour Leader Jacinda Ardern announced during a visit to the Mangere Arts Centre on Saturday morning that a Labour Government would increase funding for medical practices so they could cut fees for all visits by around $10 per visit, including to $8 per visit for adults and $2 for teenagers at VLCA practices.

Ardern said chronic underfunding had increased doctors’ fees and half a million sick New Zealanders had not visited a doctor last year because of the cost.

“Labour’s plan for cheaper doctors’ visits will mean people can get the care they need, when they need it. Investing in primary care helps to avoid health problems worsening to the point where they need expensive hospital treatment,” she said.

Labour’s plan would mean half of New Zealanders would have free visits or fees of less than $8 per visit, Ardern said. Labour pledged to match National’s plan to extend VLCA access to everyone with a Community Services Card, including ensuring access to the card for those 350,000 people in state-funded housing or receiving the Accommodation Supplement. Labour also increase subsidies for non-VLCA practices to reduce fees by $10 to around $32 for adults.

Labour said the policy would cost $259 million per year, which would equate to $1.04 billion over four years, although Labour plans to review the entire system for funding medical practices within 18 months of being in office, which may change the cost in the third and fourth years. Labour’s spending compares with National’s $380 million over four years to extend access to the $18 visits to VLCA doctors by around 600,000 people, including by opening the scheme up to everyone with a community services card, and to extending card access to people in state-funding housing and on the accommodation benefit. Labour is matching National’s plan to increase access to VLCA doctors by 600,000, including 350,000 in subsidised housing.

The key difference between the policies is that Labour is cutting the cost of VLCA visits from $18 to $8 for adults and from $12 to $2 for teenagers, and it is funding a $10 lowering of fees for non VLCA doctors, which National is not doing. Labour’s policy will cost around three times more than National’s policy.

“We will cut fees for New Zealanders across the board, rather than narrowly targeting one group,” Ardern said.

The increase in subsidies for non VLCA doctors would amount to an extra $46 million per year, which represents a five percent increase in funding. Labour would also spend $30 million over four years to increase the number of General Practice training places to 300 per year from 180 currently.

“This initiative will cut fees for New Zealanders while we undertake a full review of the primary care system aimed at better targeting subsidies, ensuring practices’ financial sustainability, and reducing other barriers to access,” Ardern said. “This review will keep zero fees for under 13s and look to further lower fees for others,” she said.

From rowing to running

Meanwhile, National released its latest campaign video advertisement, which echoed its now-famous rowing eight video from the 2014 campaign.

“We can keep the country moving forward with Bill English and his strong National team, or change to an unstable group of left-leaning parties with unclear policies that would set back the progress our families and businesses are making,” Campaign Manager Steven Joyce said in releasing the ad.

However, the ad was criticised on social media. Comedian and columnist Michele A’Court questioned whether one of the male National runners pulled the ponytail of one of the female National runners at the 15 second mark in the ad. It is not clear whether the ponytail is pulled, but the male puts his hand behind the runner’s back briefly before withdrawing it, possibly patting the young woman on the back.

Newshub’s Patrick Gower reported on August 3 that National would produce the advertisement after being leaked a call sheet for actors for the advertisement. The call sheet advertised for six fit adult runners and one child who was a runner to run as the National team, including two Maori and one child of “mixed blood (could be Euro/Maori/Asian)”. It also advertised for “5 people vaguely representing the two Labour Leaders, the two Green leaders and Winston Peters.”

“Don’t need to be fit,” the ad said of the opposition runners. It said a gratuity of petrol or shopping vouchers would be paid to the actors.

The video also appears to have used a filter that washes out the blue t-shirts into a teal colour.

Crackdown on freedom campers

Meanwhile, National also announced a crack-down on freedom campers.

Tourism Minister Paula Bennett and Local Government Minister Anne Tolley announced National would restrict all non self-contained vehicles to areas that were within easy walking distance (about 200 metres) of toilet facilities. It would extend the current powers given to Councils and the Department of Conservation to ban freedom camping from certain areas to LINZ and NZTA so Crown-owned land could be restricted.

Councils and the Department of Conservation would also be given the power to issue instant fines for those who broke the rules, with fines assigned to vehicle owners including rental car companies if the fine was not paid on the spot.

“Our changes will not affect trampers, campers and hunters who enjoy our back country areas as they are not considered freedom campers,” Tolley said.

The Government did not specify what the instant fines would be.

Minor leaders debate

TV3’s The Nation held a debate for the leaders of the smaller parties, Green (James Shaw), Maori (Marama Fox), The Opportunities Party (Gareth Morgan), Mana (Hone Harawira) and ACT (David Seymour), but not New Zealand First. Winston Peters refused to take part.

Shaw said his first priority in any coalition negotiations was to set a zero carbon target for 2050. Morgan accused those who had complained about his “lipstick on a pig” comment of being “femo-fascists”, Seymour called Peters a “charismatic crook” and Fox was generally judged the best on show.

Coming up…

Bill English will feature at National’s formal campaign launch in West Auckland on Sunday.

Jacinda Ardern is scheduled to visit Christchurch on Sunday and is expected to detail Labour’s commitment to Christchurch’s new covered stadium. National committed $120 million this week.

August 31 – The first leaders debate on TVNZ.

September 4 – TV3 has its leaders debate.

September 7 – The Press/Stuff leaders debate will be held in Christchurch

September 11 – Polling booths open for early voting.

September 20 – The final leaders debate on TVNZ.

September 23 – The General Election.

October 12 – Winston Peters has said he will make a decision about which party he ‘crowns’ to be in Government by October 12, which is when the writs with the final election results are returned.

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