Access to Medications

Arthritis New Zealand wants to see more funding for PHARMAC and the PTAC approval waiting list to be cleared to improve access to medications.

  • Patients in New Zealand are at the end of the queue for cost-effective, innovative medicines compared with other countries. This is according to the New Zealand Medicines Landscape 2016 report.
  • Five biologic medications that are available in other countries are not available in New Zealand.
  • Six arthritis medications approved by the Pharmacology Committee are waiting for funding.
  • Between 2009 and 2014, across all diseases, 14 new medicines were publicly funded in New Zealand while 59 were funded in Australia and 131 in the UK.
  • New Zealand had the lowest access to new medicines of all 20 OECD countries.
  • Around 3% of patients receive treatment for arthritis with biologics, compared to 9-10% in Australia and the UK.
  • New Zealand’s medicines budget is capped and very small. For the 2016/17 year it was set at $850M, or $180 per person. In 2015 Australia spent $435 per person.

What is a biologic?

Biological products include vaccines, blood and blood components, allergenics, somatic cells, gene therapy, tissues, and recombinant therapeutic proteins. They represent the cutting-edge of biomedical research and, in time, may offer the most effective means to treat a variety of medical illnesses and conditions that have no other treatments available.

Why are they important?

Medications are important in the treatment of all forms of arthritis. Medicines assist people with:

 Managing symptoms – particularly pain
 Preventing damage to joints
 Maintaining joint function

Advances in treatments for inflammatory arthritis such as juvenile idiopathic arthritis (JIA), rheumatoid arthritis (RA), ankylosing spondylitis (AS) and psoriatic arthritis (PsA) among others mean that it is realistic for people to achieve remission or a state of low disease activity. RA AS in particular, can be treated using biologics. 

A variety of medication choices is important because patients can be allergic to a medication. 

Early treatment

Early treatment with medication provides substantial improvement in a patient’s quality of life. Therefore it also brings savings in health care costs and sick leave through less hospital visits and lost work days.

Not funding these medications adds costs associated with benefit provision and carer support. Therefore, we advocate for better access to medications and more funding for the treatment of arthritis. Clearing the PTAC waiting list and increased funding for PHARMAC are paramount.

Most noteworthy, DMARDs (Disease-Modifying Antirheumatic Drugs) delay erosion to such an extent that a person given the same doses later in the course of the disease will never see similar benefits.

Furthermore, research into treatments for IA shows that early, aggressive DMARD treatment of erosive IA by a rheumatologist produces the best possible disease outcomes.

Waiting times

There are six arthritis medications waiting for funding. These have been approved by the PTAC. (Feb 2017 update).

Spend to Save

In summary, while we acknowledge the cost of these medications we believe that not funding these medications adds cost in other areas including;
 Increased hospitalisations
 Reduced ability to work with the subsequent need for benefits, and
 An increased need for carer support.

References: The full medicines waiting list can be viewed here.

New Zealand’s medical landscape
An Investigation of Early Access to Rheumatology Services for Patients with Inflammatory Arthritis in the Wellington Region
The Medicines NZ manifesto 
Medicines NZ Annual Review 2016
The Medicines NZ medicines landscape 2015

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