Minister for Health Sussan Ley today confirmed the 17 types of common OTC medicines, including paracetamol and aspirin, that will no longer be subsidised as a prescription drug under the PBS from January 1 2016.
Minister Ley says the measure will particularly benefit concessional patients who were sometimes paying two-to-three times the retail price of common medicines when they bought them through a prescription instead of OTC.
“There’s no doubting that many of these over-the-counter drugs such as paracetamol and aspirin can be a simple and easy treatment for various conditions,” Minister Ley says.
“These inconsistencies in the system have seen patients and taxpayers unnecessarily paying higher prices to fill prescriptions for medicines that can often be purchased cheaper straight off the shelf.
“For example, we currently have concession card holders right now paying $6.10 for a $2 pack of paracetamol if they buy it using a PBS-subsidised prescription, which also attracts a taxpayer subsidy on top.”
The Minister says while these 17 medicines made up only about 15% of OTC medicines subsidised under the PBS, between them they generated 8.7 million scripts costing $87 million in 2014-15 – nearly 90% of the annual $100 million taxpayer spend on OTC medicines.
As such, Ms Ley says the changes will also save taxpayers about half-a-billion dollars over the next five years, allowing greater investment in new medicines.
“Every dollar we spend subsidising inefficiencies in the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme is a dollar we could be investing in listing new, potentially-lifesaving medicines instead,” Minister Ley says.
She says the measure will save taxpayers by reducing the cost of subsidising these medicines, whilst also reducing the out-of-pocket costs for many patients so they did not need to reach the PBS safety net as quickly or at all.
She added that the measure is part of a balanced package of PBS reform measures passed earlier this year that also included: changes that will see many generic drugs drop in price by as much as half; greater competition through the ability of pharmacies to discount the price of the patient co-payment for the first time; a doubling of investment in pharmacy primary care programs for patients to $1.2 billion; and discounts in the price taxpayers pay for expensive medicines still protected by patents.
Minister Ley says the PBAC has recommended a number of more-expensive and emergency over-the-counter drugs would remain subsidised on the PBS for patients with a prescription, including ventolin for asthma, adrenalin epipens for allergies and various nutritional supplements.
“Retaining higher-cost and emergency products such as allergy epipens on the PBS ensures these vital medicines remain affordable for patients when and where they need them,” she says.
“These changes also make no change to a patient’s ability to consult their pharmacist or doctor about the use of over-the-counter medicines and I encourage them to continue do so.
“The market for over-the-counter medicines is also very competitive and therefore patients previously paying the fixed prescription co-payment now have the ability to use their consumer power and shop around for the best price.”
The PBAC also recommended retaining PBS access to these medicines for certain patient groups in varying circumstances, such as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander persons, paraplegic and quadriplegic patients, and palliative care patients, as well as alternate arrangements for veterans.
The PBAC’s advice is based on consultation undertaken with a range of stakeholders in the pharmaceutical supply chain, including consumers and doctors, and can be found on their website.