The new Administration Handling and Infrastructure Fee announced in the Sixth Pharmacy Agreement will be a boon to pharmacy, says Terry White – but he says the optional $1 copayment discount is bad policy.
“The most exciting thing about all this is that it gives the industry stability and direction for the next five years, and that’s not just an issue for pharmacists, it’s an issue for institutions and the many people in service industries that feed off the industry,” White, chairman of TWC Group Investments Ltd, told the AJP.
“The admin fee is a great initiative by the Guild to deal with the remuneration concerns that many pharmacists have had due to the downward cost of prescription medicines due to price disclosure.
“If something wasn’t done about that, then the remuneration levels would’ve been totally inadequate, and led to severe financial pressures, putting a lot of pharmacies into financial management by banks.
“It’s a really positive initiative, and the Guild needs to be congratulated. We all have our moments where we throw a few rocks at the Guild but to the great credit of George Tambassis and David Quilty and their negotiating team, they’ve done a fantastic job.”
The new Administration, Handling and Infrastructure Fee will replace the existing pharmacy mark-up component of remuneration.
It substantially delinks pharmacy remuneration from the price of medicines and recognises the non-professional costs of delivering the PBS to patients on behalf of the Government.
White also welcomes the retention of the location rules for the next five years.
But he says the option for pharmacies to discount script copayments by up to $1 (so that, for example, a concessional patient paying $6.10 could see their cost drop to $5.10) is “cheap politics”.
“I think it’s a terrible intrusion by Government on private enterprise, and in effect it really means that every pharmacy is going to lose $1 per prescription as an unintended consequence,” he says.
“It’s a bit of a tricky thing to do. There’s a considerable amount of disappointment that nowhere in all this is there any provision for pharmacies to put their prices up, particularly those servicing patients overnight.
“We’ve got pharmacies running seven till 11, seven days a week and we’re not allowed to bring up an additional fee to cover that service. It’s a bit of tricky politics or cheap politics which doe the Government no credit whatsoever.
“It’s all very well to make yourself a big fella but what right does the Government have to tell a business or profession that you’ve got to drop your prices by $1?
“And I note with considerable irony that nothing like this applies to the medical profession, so that if you’re a member of the medical profession, you can bulk bill or privately bill and adjust your pricing to maintain the viability of your business.”
White says this amounts to discrimination against pharmacists.
“It’s quite unfair and no doubt will tarnish what in general terms is a very good outcome for the Government, the pharmacy profession and most importantly for the patients and taxpayers.”
Pictured: Terry White (right) at the opening of the new Terry White Express store earlier this year