Home' Australian Pharmacist : Australian Pharmacist February 2015 Contents Australian Pharmacist February 2015 I ©Pharmaceutical Society of Australia Ltd. 21
While the ongoing fight over the GP tax dominated the headlines in
health over the Christmas break, the Abbott Government's forced retreat
on its attempt to hike the PBS co-payment received little attention.
Despite promising before the election
there would be no cuts to health and no
new taxes, the Government announced
in the May Budget that it planned to
increase the co-payments for PBS drugs
by $5 to $42.70 for general patients and
80c to $6.90 for concessional patients.
The measure was forecast to take
$1.3 billion out of the pockets of patients
over the next four years.
Unlike the reworked GP tax, which has
never appeared as legislation, the hike in
the PBS co-payment was passed by the
House, but has not to date been listed for
debate in the Senate, as the Government
seeks, so far unsuccessfully, to win the
support of the cross benchers.
Labor's position on this is unequivocal
-- the Government has no mandate for
this, and we will not support it. So far,
our strong stand is directly saving
patients around $20 million a month,
but evidence to the Senate Inquiry into
Out of Pocket Expenses in Australian
Healthcare last year indicates the cost,
in health terms, would be much higher.
The inquiry found there was strong
evidence the existing PBS co-payment
was already deterring between 5% and
15% of patients from filling prescriptions.
The Australian Medical Association gave
evidence 12.4% of people living in the
most disadvantaged areas delayed or did
not fill a prescription due to cost, twice
the rate for the least disadvantaged areas.
The Consumers Health Forum told
the inquiry the last time there was a
similar hike to the PBS co-payment, the
Howard Government's 21% increase on
1 January 2005,
'... there was a significant decrease in
dispensing volumes observed across 12
of the 17 medicine categories, including
anti-epileptic medication, anti-Parkinson's
treatments, combination asthma
medicines, insulin and osteoporosis
treatments. Importantly, we also know that
the co-payment increase had a particular
impact at that time on medicine utilisation
by concessional patients.'
Not surprisingly, the Senate report noted
that: Evidence provided to the committee
noted the negative health outcomes that
may arise when individuals do not adhere
to their prescribed medication programs.'
And as with the GP tax, the Government
can offer no evidence of systematic
overservicing through the PBS, or back up
its claims that the system is unsustainable.
Indeed, the Senate inquiry found the
only aspect of the PBS growing at an
unsustainable rate was the rise in the
co-payment under Coalition governments!
'Evidence from the Pharmacy Guild
of Australia noted that the cost of
pharmaceuticals has increased since
2000 on average by 2.1%, compared with
the 2.8% increase in the Consumer Price
Index. The concessional co-payment
BY CATHERINE KING MP, SHADOW FEDERAL MINISTER FOR HEALTH
BE OUR GUEST
for pharmaceuticals has increased from
$3.30 in 2000 to $6.00 in 2014 which
equates to 4.4% average annual change.
The general co-payment has increased from
$20.60 in 2000 to $36.90 in 2014 which is
4.5% average annual change.'
Since the Menzies Government first
introduced a five shilling charge in 1960 to
fund the expansion of the Pharmaceutical
Benefits Scheme, the co-payment has
been increased on numerous occasions
to fund the growing cost of complex and
But under Labor there was also
recognition of the impact such charges
could have on vulnerable patients. In 1986
the Hawke Government established the
safety net to protect the chronically ill
from huge pharmaceutical costs. And
when Hawke introduced a co-payment
for pensioners in 1990, this was offset by a
pharmaceutical allowance and safety net
which ensured no pensioners could be
Since John Howard broke this nexus
in 2005 pharmaceutical costs have
caused very real pressure on people
trying to access medicines. The Abbott
Government's proposal repeats this failure,
offering no offset to vulnerable people for
the additional charges it seeks to levy.
Like the GP tax, the one-off PBS
co-payment is simply a measure to take
money off patients to boost the Budget
bottom line in the short term, to the long
term detriment of both healthcare and the
Work Labor did in government through
simplified price disclosure, while
controversial and difficult, has meant the
PBS is now on a sustainable footing.
While Labor won the fight to stop the
charge commencing in January, the
Budget Mid-Year Review confirmed it is
still Government policy.
In the context of all this Government is
doing to transfer significant costs on to
patients via the GP tax, Labor cannot and
will not in good conscience support this
unnecessary and unaffordable hike in the
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