The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) has warmly welcomed the federal Government’s decision to put patients first and make medicines cheaper and easier to access.
It comes following the Minister for Health and Aged Care Mark Butler’s announcement today doubling the amount of medicine a pharmacy can dispense to a patient to up to 60 days’ worth for more than 320 medicines on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme. This effectively halves the dispensing fees for these medicines.
Currently, patients are limited to a 28- or 30-day supply, forcing them to take more trips to the pharmacy for medications for stable conditions. The changes, which will come into effect on 1 September, will save patients up to $180 a year on medications for chronic conditions including heart disease and hypertension.
RACGP President Dr Nicole Higgins said it was a momentous day.
“This is a win for patients,” she said.
“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.
“This announcement shows the tide is finally turning. In 2018, the Pharmacy Benefits Advisory Committee recommended increasing the maximum dispensed quantities of common medications from one to two months’ supply. This change has been recommended because it is in the best interests of patients, and I am pleased that the Government has heeded the expert advice.”
Dr Higgins urged the nation’s leaders to remain steadfast.
“Beware of scare campaigns,” she said.
“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. Also, despite what you hear from the Pharmacy Guild, there is no evidence of a shortage of the medications that are included in today’s announcement. 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.”
The RACGP President said that the was plenty more to be done.
“My aim is for today’s announcement to be just the beginning,” she said.
“Let’s go even further and extend the length of prescriptions for patients with stable chronic conditions. The RACGP also supports further investigation of the benefits to patients in changing the $1 discount rule. It effectively stops pharmacies from discounting medicines that cost more than the current co-payment of $30 by more than $1. When you consider that in New Zealand the patient contribution is as little as $5 for most items, you have to ask whether we can do better here.
“I’m also focussed on reforming the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme prescribing system to reduce administration time and free up GPs to do what they do best – care for patients. Right now, the system is too cumbersome and time-consuming. If it was streamlined, GPs would be able to spend more time with patients rather than admin work. As a GP myself in Mackay, that sounds like a winning combination to me.
“It’s also vital that the Government overhauls Australia’s anti-competitive pharmacy ownership and location laws, which inflate costs for patients. The rules appear to be focussed on protecting pharmacy owners rather than increasing patient access to cheaper medicines.
“Today is a great day for Australian patients. The tide is turning, and patient well-being is front and centre – right where it should be. Mark my words, this is just the beginning.”
A recent poll of more than 1,000 GPs who answered the question: “Do you think your patients would benefit from doubling dispensing times to 60 days?” found a staggering 85% said “yes”.