Are discount pharmacies the new Uber?

A Chemist Warehouse storefront. Image: AJP.

The Guild’s Anthony Tassone says a former ACCC chief is doing Chemist Warehouse’s bidding by publicly criticising pharmacy rules

The latest stakeholder to take to the mainstream media to call for a relaxing of the location and ownership rules is Graeme Samuel, who was formerly the head of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission and is now an academic at Monash University.

A story appearing Thursday in Fairfax Media reported that Mr Samuel believes Australians are paying significantly more than they should be for PBS medicines because of “anti-competitive regulations” in pharmacy.

“Pharmacists have been protected for so long, they’re the most powerful union in Australia,” he told reporter Dana McCauley.

He was responding to a recent call by Chemist Warehouse chief operating officer Mario Tascone, also in Fairfax media, and convenience store spokesman Jeff Rogut, to loosen the regulations.

Mr Samuel said that no PBS medicine should be dispensed without a fully qualified pharmacist – but that “once you’ve got that rule in place, nothing else is needed to protect the consumer”.

Mr Samuel said he is a frequent customer of discount pharmacies, without naming any particular chain.

“I’ve never had a question not answered and they always give advice,” he said

“They’ll all say three things: ‘have you had this before?’, ‘do you mind generic instead of branded?’ and ‘take this with food three times a day and don’t drink alcohol with it, you won’t be able to drive’.”

He told Ms McCauley that discount pharmacies were the new Uber, and that like the ride-sharing company, they should be permitted to operate as this would benefit consumers.

In country towns, discounters could also provide a mixed offer which could include services such as a Post Office or bank, he suggested.

“Provided there is a fundamental obligation that chemist-only medicines, including PBS scripts, can only be dispensed by a qualified and registered pharmacist, a discount pharmacist can be expected to establish itself in a regional town, supplying not only pharmacy services, but also [these] other services,” he said.

“A discount pharmacy, with its innovative culture has the potential to provide a regional town more services than are currently available, more choice of product—and at lower prices.”

This is not the first time Mr Samuel has called for such changes: in June 2019 he spoke to News Corp media and the ABC and urged the Government to scrap the location and ownership rules.

The Pharmacy Guild’s Victorian branch president, Anthony Tassone, was critical of the new remarks.

“It’s interesting to see Mr Samuel (repeatedly) publicly wave the flag and do the bidding for his old walking buddy Jack Gance,” he told the AJP. Mr Gance, alongside Mario Verrochi, is the co-owner of the My Chemist group, which includes the Chemist Warehouse banner.

“You can never underestimate the importance of friends,” Mr Tassone said.

“The calls for deregulation by Chemist Warehouse look like a poorly disguised exit strategy keeping options open to sell out to the highest bidder.

“I couldn’t tell you the number of times I’ve been asked by members of the public to match the price of Chemist Warehouse, but I’ve never been asked to match their level of service or care.

“I also couldn’t tell you the number of times I’ve been asked for advice by people who have shopped or purchased something from Chemist Warehouse but then sought advice from me or my team. I’ve also lost count of the number of times I’ve anecdotally heard the same from my pharmacist colleagues.

“So when Mario Tascone claims the government is ‘propping up pharmacies’ with the current regulation my question is who is propping up whom being sought after for advice when medicines have been received elsewhere?”

He also said that Mr Samuel’s comments about Australian community pharmacies being responsible for patients paying too much for PBS medicines lack an evidence base.

“It also ignores the fact that most prescriptions dispensed in Australia attract a PBS subsidy with community pharmacies largely being price takers not price makers,” Mr Tassone said.

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  1. Jarrod McMaugh

    Since when are discount pharmacies “innovative”


    Clearly this misguided academic has missed out on the true essence of the Value of Community Pharmacy ,Personal Service and fully invested Patient Centric Care . A scripted 3 question commentary will never replace the challenging issues and intricate personal interventions a “NON fast-food “ experience can offer ! Sadly those with the loudest microphones these days are the most ill- informed of all !

  3. Harriet Wright

    I thought Mr Samuels was supposed to be about competition regulation! He has just suggested that one shop could run the pharmacy, post office and bank. Could that be any more anti-competitive?

  4. Andrew

    Horrified by that response by Anthony. Undignified, petty, and irrelevant to the matter at hand. Ad hominem instantly loses the argument, and it’s not like his hands are squeaky clean either.

  5. Still a Pharmacist

    We don’t live in a communist country and location rule is inconsistent with the free market.

    Contrary to the guild’s stand, there is no doubt that abolishing the location rule will benefit the Australian public.

    It will bring the price of medicine down and improve the service quality. It will also give hope to bright young pharmacists to stay in the industry because they can own a pharmacy and not necessarily have to work with very poor pay under a miser shop owner.

    Again as opposed to guild’s claim, it will increase the number of pharmacies Not in affluent area but in populated poor areas like Lakemba, Mount Druitt etc. in Sydney.

    Also abolishing the location rule will not make any noticeable impact on small rural pharmacies. Because their margin is high and competition is low. Govt should increase the Rural Pharmacy Maintenance Allowance substantially so that more pharmacists are encouraged to go rural.

  6. PharmOwner

    If Mr Samuels attended my pharmacy, he’d be asked appropriate questions relevant to his particular circumstances. Not just the “same three”. He would be asked if the prescription he was handing in was for himself. He might be asked whether he’d noticed any side effects from his previous lot of medications. He might be asked how well he felt his medications were working. He would be asked if he had any allergies. He would certainly not be offered any Bioglan Homeopathic Melatonin which is so heavily promoted and available at the big yellow box discounter. THAT is the difference between a real pharmacy and the ones pushing for a relaxation in location rules.
    Oh, and how nice of you, Dr Ackermann, to once again voice your opinion on a subject which has absolutely nothing to do with you.
    If I could answer the second point you’ve made about making complaints. I’ve made notifications to AHPRA about inappropriate prescribing of Schedule 8 drugs. I’ve also made notifications about other pharmacies when I had strong evidence of PBS fraud. I will not comment about which banner group it was except to say it was one of the discounters.
    What notifications have you made to AHPRA about your colleagues or other health professionals?
    I notice you are pretty quiet when AJP runs stories of inappropriate or unprofessional conduct by GPs


    4 years uni to count tills & wear a name badge for an employer with zero to nil chance of 100% ownership. Earning less than a tradie and many other jobs that don’t require a degree. Not great prospects. No wonder so many have left or are considering leaving the profession….

  8. Geoff

    ownership and location rules are separate issues. 1. Ownership of pharmacies by pharmacists has bipartisan support at all levels of government because they realise the likely outcome of deregulation will be the supermarket duopoly- the largest sellers of anti-health sugary and fatty processed food, alcohol and cigarettes- being the largest players….. much easier to negotiate dispensing fees with the Guild than the supermarket powerhouse.
    2. location rules were created by the Govt to limit the number of inefficient small pharmacies- larger pharmacies are more efficient so the dispensing fee could be reduced. It made no sense to allow a new pharmacy to open where they had just subsidised a closure so location rules were introduced. The rules have been amended over the years and will continue to change as needed but they serve the Govt aim to keep costs down. They have benefited existing pharmacy owners but that is coincidental to the benefits to the Govt and taxpayer.
    The other problem with Prof Samuels suggestions is he believes the individual consumer to be most important. What the individual pays as a PBS copayment is only a small part of the total price eg about $6 of hundreds of dollars for insulin, thousand s of dollars for chemotherapy, $20,000 per month for hepatitis. In fact the largest consumer is the tax payer thru the PBS component and as shown, ownership and location rules serve the Govt to keep this cost down. It makes no sense to call for a drastic change to save a consumer $1 if it ends up costing the tax payer $2 or $5 or $10.

    • Paul Sapardanis

      Well written Geoff. The one thing we need is for the state regulators to ensure that the ownership laws are being complied with. Not sure that they are though

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