Cheaper meds or ‘potential disaster’ for local pharmacies

Imminent changes to medicine dispensing limits which will see patients able to save on 60-day supplies as opposed to 30-day supplies has ‘appalled’ local pharmacies claims Nationals MP Mark Coulton who says some could even go bust.

Local pharmacist and partner in the Outback Pharmacy group, Alex Page, told the Truth the potential changes are, “a potential disaster”.

The federal government says the accusations are not true, with Health Minister Mark Butler saying claims by the pharmacist body Pharmacy Guild are, “a frankly, dishonest and cynical scare campaign, over the independent, expert Advisory Committee”.

The mooted changes to the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) will essentially see the price of numerous medications reduced for millions of Australians who suffer from chronic illnesses by enabling them to purchase a 60-day supply as opposed to a 30-day supply.

The way the current system works is this – if you pay $40 for your 30-day supply of PBS pills, inside of that price is a dispensary fee – essentially a hidden handling and admin fee pharmacies charge on each prescription.

But under the new scheme, in the example we’re using, you will pay $70 for your 60-day supply of medication, rather than $80, and that eats into the profits available to your local pharmacy business because they can only charge once, when you pick your medication of 60, rather than twice, if you pick up 30 tablets followed by another 30 tablets the following month.

“The unintended consequences of these changes could make local pharmacies in our towns unsustainable by drastically impacting their dispensary income,” MP Coulton warns.

But Minister Butler says, “60-day dispensing is good for Australians’ hip pockets, and it’s good for their health.

“Patient groups support this policy, including Diabetes Australia, Asthma Australia and the Heart Foundation,” he says.

“Doctors’ groups support this policy. And the National Rural Health Alliance support this policy because rural patients living further away from a pharmacy won’t need to make as many trips to get their medicine.”

“Smaller pharmacies likely won’t survive it and they’ll have to close their doors, which will result in job losses,” Outback Pharmacy Group’s Mr Page told the Truth.

“Some of the bigger ones might be able to withstand it but they may have to look at reducing opening hours. If you lose that money from one side of the coin, you must make it up somewhere else and that’s through cutting of services or charging for things that previously weren’t charged for.”

Mr Coulton says there are other issues, including the timely supply of medicine on the PBS.

“The impact of 60-day dispensing has also been flagged as a likely cause of additional supply issues, with these expected to hit regional towns hardest,” says the MP, who adds, “it’s yet another example of city-centric policy making.”

The supply chain issue has been dismissed by the government, citing the fact that two or three months dispensing already operates in the UK, New Zealand, Canada, France, Germany, the US, and several other countries.

Mr Page argues there are other avenues the government could have gone down that would save patients money and not potentially crippled the pharmacy industry at the same time. He says a lowering of the co-payment for PBS prescription would have been a more equitable way to ease cost of living pressures.

“At the moment it is $7.30 for a concessional script. They could reduce that down to $5, or something like that. That would save patients a lot of money. It wouldn’t cripple the pharmacy industry, it wouldn’t decrease patient safety, and it wouldn’t have an effect on the supply chain issue”.

This policy will be phased in over three different tranches, beginning in September.


Photo by Karolina Grabowska/PEXELS

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