Agreement blues


Sign-off on 60 day dispensing, consumer group tells the government as signs build that agreement is set to go overtime 

The federal government should implement an expert recommendation to ease dispensing restrictions and permit consumers to get two months’ supply at a time of common prescribed medicines, the Consumers Health Forum says. 

In a statement issued on Friday,15 November, the CHF has made a number of recommendations to “improve” the Seventh Community Pharmacy Agreement, currently under negotiation between the Federal Department of Health and the Pharmacy Guild of Australia.

The CHF says it wants to improve governance and oversight of the agreement process, and says that consumers should have a seat at the table as well, something it has called for in previous agreements. 

It wants to see the agreement split into two parts, one covering remuneration and the other covering professional services, while saying there also needs to be “innovation to remove regulatory barriers such as anti-competitive location and ownership rules which stifle competition; and regulatory change to deal with innovations such as e-prescriptions and pharmacy vending machines.”

However it’s key focus is for the Health Minister to “take up the recommendation of the expert Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee which…. recommended that dispensing move from one to two months’ supply for some 143 medicines.

“Removing this often unnecessary restriction — unless prescribed otherwise by the doctor — would improve accessibility, convenience and affordability for consumers on routine medication who currently have to go back to the pharmacy every month for no good reason,” CHF said.

The recommendation for double dispensing has been vigorously opposed by the Pharmacy Guild, but to date, the government has refused to rule it out as a policy.

“Pharmacies enjoy a protected place in the health economy and their Agreement with the Federal Government over payments for dispensing prescriptions and their other services is made behind closed doors,” CHF said.

“Yet there is a great scope for pharmacists to have a greater role outside the four walls of the pharmacy in advising consumers in the community and in nursing homes about medication safety and quality use of medicines, as well as working in collaborative team care arrangements with general practitioners”.

Meanwhile, a report in pharmacy industry newsletter PharmaDispatch says the government is considering appointing pharmacy critic, and former Australian Competition and Consumer Commission chair, Professor Graeme Samuel, to the Pharmaceutical Benefits Remuneration Tribunal (PBRT).

This body, which usually meets once a year to formally endorse the indexation of pharmacy remuneration, only becomes an independent authority if the government and Guild cannot sign-off on a CPA.

However it has no oversight over pharmacy ownership or location rules, both of which Professor Samuel has been critical of in the past.   

The 7CPA was originally slated to be signed off before the end of 2019, Health Minister Greg Hunt said at APP2019 in March, but sources say no sign-off is likely in the near future.

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