Objectives: The aim of this study is to examine key informants' perceptions of how the New Zealand Pharmaceutical Management Agency (PHARMAC) operates in New Zealand.
Methods: We carried out qualitative analysis of semi-structured interviews with key informants. We obtained ethics approval from the University of Otago School of Pharmacy, and all participants gave informed consent. We digitally recorded the interviews, which were then transcribed, and coded in NVivo. The data were analyzed by theme using constant comparison methods. Twenty informants who had previously published research or commentary on New Zealand's access to medicines, acted as spokespersons for interest groups, or held positions that gave them key insights into New Zealand's medicines system agreed to participate. Informants were purposefully selected to ensure a wide range of views, including five people working in medicine, four in pharmacy, three Members of Parliament from different parties, and two each from PHARMAC and the pharmaceutical industry.
Results: Respondents saw PHARMAC as an organization that contained medicine costs effectively, was politically neutral, and resistant to lobbying. It enjoyed broad political support and, with extremely rare exceptions, had been allowed to carry out its functions independently regardless of who was in government. As a result of this political stability, the relationship between PHARMAC and the pharmaceutical industry has been improving.
Conclusion: PHARMAC's longevity and increasing influence are largely due to political choices made to prioritize containing pharmaceutical expenditure and to respecting PHARMAC's independence. This may be difficult to replicate in other countries.