Home' Australian Pharmacist : August 2011 Contents Vol. 30 -- August #08
An unlikely agreement
By Mark Thornton
It's sometimes difficult to accept the
arguments of Big Pharma's lobby
group Medicines Australia.
Like so many other representative
bodies in the political heartland of
Australia, it's there to influence
decision makers in their various forms
but, ultimately, the government, to
give its clients the best deal it can get.
But when the government starts
interfering with the process for
listing new medicines under the
Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme,
overruling the independent, well-
regarded and trusted Pharmaceutical
Benefits Advisory Committee's
recommendations, it's hard not to
agree with Medicines Australia that
there's something untoward going on.
You have to wonder what the former
Chair of PBAC, Professor Lloyd
Sansom, would have made of it all.
Professor Sansom has given free,
frank and apolitical advice to Canberra
Commentary from time to time over
the past 10 years. This advice was
particularly valuable during the period
when Australia was negotiating the
Free Trade Agreement with the United
States, a time when the Americans
made no secret of their dislike of the
PBS, which they saw as a hindrance to
their access to our market.
His tenure ends in September of
course, and he will be replaced by
Dr Suzanne Hill, a World Health
Organisation scientist and former
University of Newcastle Associate
Professor in Clinical Pharmacology,
particularly the public health aspects
of that discipline. Dr Hill has
specialised in access to medicines and
pharmacoeconomics, her pedigree
making her singularly qualified as
the new Chair and hardly a political
Interestingly, Health Minister
Nicola Roxon, in announcing her
appointment, said Dr Hill will bring to
her new role a wealth of experience
'at a time when rigorous assessments
are as important as ever'.
If Ms Roxon acknowledges the need
for rigour, why is the government
appearing to be trying to circumvent
Well, Medicines Australia's acting
chief executive Andrew Bruce said the
government is 'bringing politics into
clinical decisions where people's health,
and indeed their lives, are at stake.
Worse, it has actually said that the
future listing of new medicines on
the PBS would become contingent
on the Federal Opposition supporting
Government health policies such as the
private health insurance rebate and the
chronic disease dental scheme.
'That is unconscionable,
' Mr Bruce
said. 'The PBS was always meant to be
about equitable access to medicines
for all Australians. It is now being used
as a political football and patients are
being caught in the middle.
The Consumers Health Forum (CHF),
which represents 60 of the nation's
biggest consumer health organisations
and which is rarely willing even to
be in the same room with Medicines
What is especially difficult to
understand is why the government
continues to withhold medicines from
the PBS that the PBAC has minutely
examined and found that the health
and economic benefits of making
them available on the PBS outweigh
Does Cabinet seriously believe it
knows better? It seems bent on
destroying an assessment process
that, under Professor Sansom,
became open, transparent, and the
envy of the world. And why would
it stick its already scarred neck out
over a politically sensitive issue like
this when it has so readily caved in
to Opposition campaigns against far
more readily defensible policies?
Ms Roxon has said that Cabinet will
continue to consider all new PBS drug
listings but there is only so much
money available and there are other
priorities such as training new doctors
and nurses, opening new hospital
beds and investing in new preventive
health programs vying for funds.
This is short-sighted. The government
knows from endless polls and focus
groups that health is the big political
item. While training doctors and
providing beds are important, its
meddling with the PBS will upset
millions of Australians and has so
far only succeeded in uniting two
powerful lobbies in Medicines
Australia and the CHF.
Look out for the 'I'm sick and I vote'
Mark Thornton is a Canberra-based
journalist and was a member of the Federal
Parliamentary Press Gallery for many years.
Any opinions expressed are not necessarily
those of PSA, its Board or staff.
Links Archive September 2011 July 2011 Navigation Previous Page Next Page