News & Trends - Pharmaceuticals

Government fails to address medicine affordability and ignores pay disparities for services

Health Industry Hub | March 30, 2022 |
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Pharma News: The cost of medicines will continue to go up unchecked as the Federal Government has failed to address the increasing cost of co-payments for Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) funded medicines in the Federal Budget.

The National President of the Pharmacy Guild, Professor Trent Twomey, said the Government had squandered an opportunity to help millions of Australians better access critical medicines, relieving hip pocket pressures for working families and reducing the burden of preventable disease on our hospitals and emergency services.

“The maximum general co-payment for the PBS is now $42.50 and will keep rising every year hitting $50 by the end of the decade,” Professor Twomey said.

“Research by the Australian Patients Association has found more than 20 per cent of Australians aged 18-64 describe prescription medicines as being unaffordable. Cost of living and the affordability of healthcare continue to dominate as issues affecting Australians with more than one in six voters saying they or their families have been unable to purchase medicines due to cost. This inevitably translates into preventable hospital presentations and worse population health.

“The Government’s decision to lower the PBS Safety Net Threshold [by $80/year] does not go far enough. When many Australians are relying on paycheck to paycheck and are deciding whether they can put fuel in their car, purchase groceries or keep a roof over their head, they simply cannot afford to wait until October to access cheaper medicines,” Professor Twomey said.

Pharmaceutical Society of Australia (PSA) National President, A/Prof Chris Freeman, said “In a budget aimed at tackling the cost of living, PSA agrees with the Pharmacy Guild of Australia that reducing PBS Safety Net thresholds does not adequately address the rising cost of prescription medicines.”

Concession card holders will need 12 fewer prescriptions to reach the safety net, and general patients approximately 2 fewer scripts.

Professor Twomey added “Families are being forced to choose between medicines and immediate needs like food or fuel. This is bad news for their health and wellbeing and will translate into a higher burden on hospitals and emergency healthcare.

“There aren’t many levers the Government can pull to reduce the cost of living but tokenistic cash handouts are not one of them. The Government has the ability to make PBS medicines more affordable for middle income households. For many households, these medicines are the cost of staying alive.”

The Pharmaceutical Society of Australia (PSA) also welcomed funding for embedding pharmacists into aged care but is disappointed that unfair disparities in pharmacist remuneration for key services have been overlooked in this year’s Federal Budget.

A/Prof Freeman, was frustrated that no commitments were made to improving remuneration for pharmacists’ services in tonight’s Federal Budget.

“Whilst we are delighted that the Minister has recognised the important role that pharmacists play, by recently announcing $345.7 million in funding to embed pharmacists in aged care facilities, the fact that fair remuneration for services that pharmacists provide has once again been overlooked by the Government is a bitter pill to swallow.

“The Government’s failure to rectify these inequalities is unacceptable, and is a slap in the face for pharmacists who kept on delivering during the pandemic. In our Federal Budget Submission, PSA highlighted two key pharmacist services which require immediate financial support – case conferencing and vaccinations.

“As it stands, pharmacists are the only health provider that the Government does not remunerate for their time and participation in case conferencing. In addition to this, pharmacists are being remunerated at a significantly lower rate than other providers for providing exactly the same vaccination services, including vaccinations against COVID-19.

“Introducing an MBS service payment to pharmacists for administering National Immunisation Program vaccines, and a separate MBS rebate for pharmacists to be remunerated for multidisciplinary case conferences, would increase consumer access to pharmacist expertise and skills.

“We welcome the Government’s commitment to funding pharmacist roles in aged care, and this initiative will present new and exciting career opportunities for Australian pharmacists. However, if these pay disparities continue to exist, it will have dire consequences on Australian healthcare, jeopardising the future of the pharmacist workforce.

“Ahead of the Federal Election, we are calling on the incoming government to prioritise these concerns, improving conditions for pharmacists and ensuring that Australians can continue to access high-quality, accessible care,” he said.

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