Since 2001, implementation of a New Zealand’s Primary Health Care Strategy (the Strategy) has led to an increase in the proportion of primary health care services which are publicly funded, the development of 82 primary health organisations (PHOs) to oversee primary health care services and universal public capitation funding of PHOs. This approach has replaced the previous system of fee-for service targeted public subsidies paid to individual general practitioners (GPs). Patient copayments, although at a reduced level but still set by individual practitioners, have remained a core feature of the system.
This paper focuses on the implementation and impact of key policy changes over the first five years of the Strategy. Although patient copayments have fallen and consultation rates have increased, the new funding and payment system has raised a number of unresolved issues – whether to retain the new universal funding system or revert to the former targeted approach; how to achieve the potential gains from capitation when GPs continue to receive their income from a variety of sources and in a variety of different ways; and how to manage the potential for ‘cream skimming’.
Recent improvements in access may, in time, improve health status and reduce inequalities in health, but there is no guarantee that a universal system will necessarily improve average health or reduce inequalities. Much depends on the services being delivered and the populations that are benefiting most – something New Zealand needs better evidence on before determining future policy directions in primary health care.