The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) is calling on the federal government to make medicines cheaper and easier to access and reduce the administration for scripts, so GPs have more time for patients.
Australia’s largest representative body for GPs, the RACGP said the May Budget is an opportunity for government to reduce cost of living pressures for Australians by acting on reforms, including to:
- extend the length of prescriptions to save patients money and time
- allow a larger supply of medicines in one go – a 2-month supply would halve dispensing fees, which cost taxpayers $1.67 billion in 2021-22
- investigate the benefits of removing the $1 discount rule, which caps discounts on medicines
- overhaul Australia’s anti-competitive pharmacy ownership and location laws which inflate costs for patients
- make prescribing faster and easier for GPs so they have more time for patient care by streamlining the Pharmaceutical Benefits Schedule (PBS) prescribing system, which is unnecessarily complex.
RACGP President Dr Nicole Higgins said Australia’s health system crisis must be tackled from all sides, including by making medicines cheaper and easier to access.
“We have a cost-of-living crisis and a health system crisis on our hands, and people across Australia are feeling the crunch and struggling to access or afford the healthcare and medicines they need,” she said.
“But there are simple reforms the government can and should make that will save patients’ money and time, as well as freeing up GPs so we can see more patients, and reducing the overall healthcare budget.
“This includes extending the length of prescriptions. If GPs could give longer prescriptions of 15-months instead of the usual 6-months to suitable patients, it would make a big difference. GPs should have the flexibility to decide what’s right for their patients.
“Another easy way to lower costs is to allow patients to get a larger supply of medicines in one go by increasing the supply interval for certain medicines. This will save the government money on dispensing fees which could in turn be used to further subsidise patient care.
“Over 140 medicines could have an increased supply interval of two months, according to the Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee, many for chronic conditions, such as heart disease – one of the leading causes of death in Australia, which affects over 4% of the population. *
“These reforms are an easy way to help those most in need, including people who are older and those with chronic conditions who often need multiple medicines.
“It will save money for individual patients, as well as significant savings for the overall health budget and taxpayers. The cost of dispensing was $1.67 billion in 2021-22, a two-month interval would cut this by half.
“We also support further investigation of the benefits to patients in changing the $1 discount rule. This prevents pharmacies from discounting medicines that cost more than the current co-payment of $30 by more than $1. Other countries like New Zealand don’t have this rule, so pharmacies can offer significant discounts on some medicines.”
The RACGP President also called for changes to the PBS prescribing system to reduce administration time and free up GPs to see patients.
“The current PBS authority system is time consuming and an administrative burden for GPs, with questionable if any benefits for patients,” she said.
“If this system was updated and streamlined it would result in shorter consults, lower Medicare billings, and GPs would have more time to spend with patients, rather than cumbersome administration.
“Australia needs to seriously explore alternative models to lower the cost of medicines and increase access and choice for people across Australia. Other models such as supermarket pharmacies, online pharmacies and automated dispensing machines are used widely in other western countries like the US and UK, and could make a real difference here, particularly in rural communities.
“Everyone deserves access to affordable and high-quality primary care and medicines, no matter their postcode or income. But too many people are missing out, which is causing more people to go to hospital, and more pressure on our overstretched emergency care system.
“The government needs to stem the bleeding in this Budget by providing urgent relief to Australians facing growing out-of-pocket costs for healthcare. And we are continuing to call for an increase in Medicare rebates, including for longer complex consultations.
“The government should also use the Budget to act on these reforms to make medicines cheaper and easier to access. It is an easy way to help Australians battling rising costs at a time when they really need it, as well as reducing overall healthcare costs, and freeing up GPs to spend more time with patients.”
RACGP spokespeople are available for comment.
*Australian Bureau of Statistics, Health Conditions Prevalence.