A study that found vulnerable New Zealanders are missing out on free prescriptions they are entitled to has sparked concern with Associate Health Minister Peter Dunne.
The ongoing study into equity in prescription medicine use, by University of Otago and Victoria University, found many individuals or families are not getting free prescriptions after paying for 20 prescription items in a year, as they are supposed to.
Mr Dunne says the findings are worrying.
"If people are not getting, as I understand it, the medicines that they should be getting free ... then that is a concern," he told media.
"I certainly will have a look at it."
Using anonymous data from community pharmacy computers, the researchers found that most of those who had more than 20 items dispensed in one year were from the most socio-economically deprived areas of the country.
Despite being entitled to the exemption after paying for 20 items, 40 percent still paid the prescription fee for 90 percent of the medicines they got, the study found.
Pharmac data shows that 180,000 people pay for prescriptions after they should be exempt, costing patients about $2.5 million a year.
The researchers say the exemption "does not seem to work in practice", as people have to have a Prescription Subsidy Card and one main pharmacy, or to collect receipts from any other pharmacies they visit and take those to their main pharmacy.
Standard charges for prescription medicines will go up from $3 to $5 in January, meaning the maximum that individuals or families will be required to pay will be $100 per year - but the researchers say some people may potentially end up paying much more.