Prescription charges

In Aotearoa New Zealand, some medicines are subsidised (funded) by the government so you pay less for them. Find out more about prescription charges.

The cost of prescriptions in New Zealand depend on a number of factors, such as:

  • Immigration status (resident, non-resident)
  • Age of the patient (children under 14 years, adults and children 14 years and older) 
  • Community services card (yes, no)
  • Subsidy category of the medicine (fully subsidised, partially subsidised, unsubsidised)
  • Prescriber category (GP, DHB specialist, private specialist)

On this page, you will find the following information:

Who is eligible for publicly funded medicines?

In Aotearoa New Zealand, if you are a citizen, permanent resident or hold a work permit for more than 2 consecutive years, you are eligible for publicly funded prescription services. Visitors or non-residents are not eligible for funded services. 

What is the prescription subsidy scheme?

Medicines in Aotearoa New Zealand fall into categories based on their level of subsidy. This is called the prescription subsidy scheme. A subsidy is the amount funded (paid for) by the government for the medicine.

There are three categories of funding:

PHARMAC decides which medicines will be subsidised and at what level. These medicines are listed on the Pharmaceutical schedule.  

What are fully subsidised medicines?

Medicines that are fully subsidised (funded) still require you to make a co-payment or prescription charge. This is an amount you pay towards the cost of the medicine.

What is a special authority?

A special authority is an application process whereby a prescriber requests a subsidy for a specific medicine for a particular person with a specified medical condition. Specific criteria must be met before funding is granted. These are called special authority criteria and are meant to ensure that access to medicines is available for those who would benefit most from treatment. Once approved, the prescriber is provided with a special authority number, which must appear on the prescription to gain the subsidy.

What are partially subsidised medicines?

These medicines are only partially subsidised or funded. This means you need to pay an extra part-charge on top of the amount you pay for a fully subsidised medicine. The final price you pay depends on the difference between the subsidy and the manufacturer’s price, and the size of the mark-up charged by the dispensing pharmacy.

What are unsubsidised medicines?

The cost of these se medicines aren't subsidised. This mean you will need to pay for the full cost of the medicine. Unsubsidised medicines also include medicines that are bought without a prescription or over-the-counter (OTC) medicines.

What is a prescription subsidy card or exemption card?

A prescription subsidy card is aimed at reducing costs for families/whānau and people who are prescribed a lot of medicines. You are eligible for the subsidy once you have paid for 20 new subsidised prescription medicine items from 1 February to 31 January each year.

  • You can reach the 20-item threshold by combining prescription items for your partner and dependent children aged from 14–18 years old.
  • Most prescriptions for children under 14 years of age are free and do not count towards the total.

Where can I get a prescription subsidy card?

You can get this card through your pharmacy. Your pharmacy will keep count of your prescriptions. If you tell your pharmacy the name of your partner and dependent family/whānau members, they can keep track of how many items have been bought for them as well. 

Pharmacy systems are not all linked, so one pharmacy may not always be aware of prescriptions you get from another pharmacy. If you or other family/whānau members visit different pharmacies, keep all the prescription fee receipts. Show them to one pharmacy, so they can keep a record of your total prescription count in their system. 

What subsidy is available with a Community Services Card (CSC)?

The Community Services Card (CSC) is income dependent. It is means-tested based on your family/whānau's income. If any family/whānau member's income before tax (gross) is below the amount set by the Ministry of Health, they are eligible for a CSC. You can get this card through Work and Income NZ (WINZ) or the Ministry of Social Development (MSD). 

Having a CSC may lower the cost of GP visits (this depends on the GP practice) and specialist prescription charges. For example, for funded specialist items, $15 may be reduced to $5. When you have a CSC and an exemption card, there is no charge.

What subsidy is available with a SuperGold Card?

The SuperGold card is for New Zealand residents aged 65 or over, or people who qualify for New Zealand superannuation or a veteran’s pension. It replaces the Super Card and the CSC. If you are eligible for CSC entitlements, the SuperGold Card will indicate that. 

Summary of prescription charges

Below is a summary table of the prescription charges for a subsidised medicine.

Additional charges will apply for partially subsidised or unsubsidised medicines. 

Patient category Prescription from GP or hospital Prescription from specialist

(no CSC)

Prescription from specialist

(with CSC)

  • Child under 14 years of age
Free Free Free
  • Adult
  • Child 14 years and older
  • DHB specialist $5
  • Private specialist $15
  • Non-resident
  • Visitor
Pay in full Pay in full  Pay in full

Why do the charges for specialist prescriptions differ?

Prescription charges from specialists differ depending on whether the prescription is from a DHB specialist ($5) or a private specialist ($15). This is because providers or prescribers providing a service that is privately funded and who do not have a contract with either the Ministry of Health, a DHB or a PHO are not approved for subsidy.

Private specialists are not approved for subsidy if the prescription does not relate to a patient receiving a publicly funded service contracted by the DHB, and if the prescription is issued in the course of their private practice and relates to a private patient receiving a privately funded service. Read more about questions and answers – the standard $5 prescription medicine charge.  

Learn more

Collecting and paying for medicines Ministry of Health, NZ
Free health checks for children under 14 New Zealand Government

Credits: Sandra Ponen, Pharmacist. Reviewed By: Angela Lambie, Pharmacist, Auckland Last reviewed: 18 Jun 2021