The Commerce Commission is investigating complaints about invoices issued by the MedicAlert Foundation – a health services charity.

The foundation, which was established in New Zealand in 1962, electronically stores members’ vital health information. 

It provides users with wearable medical IDs, in the form of a bracelet or necklace, with an engraved ID number and any crucial information medical professionals might need to know in the event of an emergency.

On its website, the foundation says its basic membership plan costs $60 a year. Its most recent annual return on the charities register, for the year ending June 2021, reports about $457,000 in membership fees and $62,000 in new enrolments. 

In separate Official Information Act (OIA) responses, both the Department of Internal Affairs' Charities Services section and the Commerce Commission confirmed they had fielded complaints about MedicAlert.

Financially viable

In its OIA response, a spokesperson for the consumer watchdog said the commission contacted Charities Services in May last year to ask whether it had received any complaints.

“The commission received information from Charities Services regarding complaints about invoices received from MedicAlert between May and December 2021,” the spokesperson said.

“This information has assisted us with our enquiries into complaints received by the commission about invoices individuals had received from MedicAlert.

“We are currently investigating the matter and have not yet reached a conclusion.”

BusinessDesk approached MedicAlert for an explanation. A lawyer acting for the foundation, Stephen Iorns, responded on its behalf. 

He said that to ensure it remained financially viable, the foundation had transitioned from a voluntary membership fees model, which had been in place since 1995, to an invoicing model requiring membership fees for new members from 2007 and all members from 2019.

“Some aspects of that transition are currently being investigated by the Commerce Commission, following a very small number of members taking issue,” Iorns said.

“MedicAlert stands by the legitimacy of its practices but is of course taking this as an opportunity to learn, ensuring it continues to meet the needs of all members. 

“We are not in a position to comment further at this point, due to the ongoing nature of this investigation, but expect it to resolve favourably in due course, without any impact to the operations of the MedicAlert Foundation.”

*An earlier version of this story used a picture of a St John ambulance. St John is not being investigated by the Commerce Commission.