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News & Trends - Pharmaceuticals

Health Minister cautions against scare campaigns led by pharmacy lobby group

Health Industry Hub | April 27, 2023 |

Pharma News: New measures are being introduced to reduce the cost of medicines for six million Australians.

The government has accepted the advice of the Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee (PBAC) to provide two months’ supply of 325 medicines for chronic disease. This will mean patients will only need to make one visit to the GP per year instead of two and six visits to the pharmacist instead of twelve. It will also halve the cost of medicines for six million patients.

“This new policy will be phased in over three different tranches. The first tranche operating from 1 September this year, the second from 1 March next year and the third tranche from 1 September in 2024. Each tranche will involve around 100 medicines, so about a third of the 325 will be included in each of those tranches,” confirmed Mark Butler MP, Minister for Health and Aged Care, yesterday.

While the Pharmacy Guild of Australia is saying that of the 300 medicines that are part of the changes, about 40% have shortages at the moment, the Health Minister encouraged people to take advice around medicine supply and medicine shortages from “our medicines authorities rather than the pharmacy lobby group.”

He added “The actual truth is of the 325 medicines that I have announced today, only 7 of them are experiencing supply shortages. Shortages which are reflected right across the world and are a product of the impact of COVID supply lines. I really would caution against some of the scare campaigns being put by the pharmacy lobby group.

“Two or three months’ supply of medicines operates now in the UK, in New Zealand, in Canada, in France, Germany, many parts of the US and a number of other countries besides. This is a very common practice across the world.”

In a statement to Health Industry Hub, Medicines Australia said it understands the intent of the government’s proposed 60-day dispensing measure and is working through the details and implications carefully.

“We believe that patients should be at the centre of Medicare and PBS decision making and appreciate the goal of reducing the significant cost of living pressures, improving access to general practitioners and, supporting those with chronic health conditions to keep up with their medications, are important measures for the community.

“The introduction of a proposed 60-day dispensing will, we believe, place a level of pressure on the supply of certain medicines and Government, manufactures, wholesalers, pharmacies and general practitioners will need to work effectively together to manage any pressure points or supply questions,” the organisation said.

To ensure a smooth transition, Medicines Australia has proposed a phasing-in approach, which the government is planning, and effective information to discourage stockpiling of medicines.

RACGP President Dr Nicole Higgins said it was a momentous day.

“This is a win for patients. Cost of living pressures are placing tremendous strain on households across Australia, so there has never been a more important time to save patients money and time. Patients with a range of chronic conditions including heart disease will be able to save up to $180 a year and that will make a huge difference for so many households.”

She warned “Beware of scare campaigns. A recent Westpac report found that pharmacies are reaping record profits, with the total consumer spending in pharmacies rising from $92.5 million in July 2019 to more than $123 million in January this year. Some pharmacy owners may be concerned that they will lose retail sales; however, at the end of the day cheaper access to lifesaving medications must come before retail sales, it’s as simple as that.”

Minister Butler commented on the prescription data. He said “The Bureau of Statistics has told us that almost a million Australians every year go without filling a script that their doctor has said is important for their health, because they can’t afford it. What we’ve seen overseas is that these longer dispensing arrangements allow you to get two months’ supply rather than just one month, to improve medication compliance by as much as 20%. It’s a really important public health measure.”

New stockholding measures within Medicines Australia’s Strategic Agreement with the government, which sets an increase in stock levels held by companies/wholesalers for certain medicines, will also need to be factored into these dynamics as it comes into effect 1 July 2023.

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