Phil Richardson: Health care in New Zealand

By Phil Richardson

The United States is the only industrialized nation without Universal Health Care. One of the reasons is that we currently have the most expensive healthcare system in the World. The average annual cost per capita here is $7,290.

I picked one of the best plans in use in another country for comparison—The one for New Zealand. It spends 87% of its GDP on healthcare; some $3,929 per capita.

I chose it mainly because of its attitude of healthcare for children. It’s free from conception to age 18. Every study reinforces the common-sense edict that superlative care through the formative years is the most effective, least costly protocol for the lifetime long run.

The foremost reason for New Zealand’s much lower cost to patients is the fact that the Ministry of Health oversees the funding of twenty District Health Boards whose decisions are made by locally elected members. They run for office and voters decide who will earn eight seats every three years. No multi-million dollar salaries for their executives. The top pay for a District Health Board Member, with long tenure and many responsibilities is $26,520 per annum.

The Ministry of Health invites bids for prices on drugs. Competition in the marketplace for the lowest price by drug makers is keen.

Hospitals’ and Specialists’ fees are covered by the government—if the patient is referred by the family practice physician they have chosen. Don’t care for the family doctor’s decision? Patients can’t self refer, unless they wish to purchase health insurance from one of several companies vying for business. Right now, Southern Cross Health Insurance Company, A NON-PROFIT, handles about 60% of that market. No multi-million-dollar salaries here either.

Unusual perk: The Accident Compensation Commission covers any treatment for cases deemed accidental, including medical misadventures.

Most New Zealand Families pay a tax on their income of one percent dedicated to healthcare. It never is enough and their Parliament is usually obligated to grant subsidies to the Ministry of Health from their treasury.

The bad news: after one enrolls the family and before the first and subsequent visits, patients expect to be put on a waiting list. If it’s routine, and you don’t have insurance, it could be a long wait—weeks or months for a routine operation. However, numerous Urgent Care facilities accept walk-ins immediately.


Phil Richardson, Observer of the human condition and storyteller, is a retired broadcast executive residing in Tucson, Arizona. He is the author of three books – “Water Dream,” “The Prosperity Coal Company” and “Miguel: Narcotraficante.” All are available at

“He goes doddering on into his old age, making a public nuisance of himself.” – Joseph L. Menchen


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