‘Are we upping the ante now to generate publicity?’

hand out for money - coins in palm

A leading pharmacist has criticised former ACCC chief Graeme Samuel’s latest attack on the community pharmacy sector

In the latest of a series of criticisms of the regulations governing community pharmacy, Graeme Samuel has claimed that some patients are paying more than five times more than others for standard antibiotics.

An article published in the Newcastle Herald, by reporter Joanne McCarthy, cites unspecified “figures collated by groups pushing the Federal Government to end rules restricting where pharmacies can operate” which state that discounters are offering better prices on standard antibiotic syrups than other pharmacies.

Pharmacies in Port Stephens, Singleton, Morisset, Belmont, Toronto and Cessnock were selling the unidentified antibiotics at up to 5.2 times more than a discount pharmacy in another location, the article says.

“If you go into a town and there’s one coffee shop and because of a lack of competition they charge $15 for a cup of coffee you’d be pretty outraged,” Mr Samuel, the former head of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, told the Herald.

“If there was only one petrol station in a town and you were charged $4.50 per litre for petrol you’d be just as outraged,” he said.

“Yet because of these contracts between the Pharmacy Guild and the Federal Government that’s the case for pharmaceuticals.”

He said that a number of recent reviews into pharmacy have shown that consumers are “paying the price for the lack of competition” in pharmacy.

Mr Samuel has appeared several times in the mainstream media in recent weeks criticising the pharmacy location rules in particular and advocating for discount pharmacies to be able to open more outlets in rural and regional areas.

Anthony Tassone, Pharmacy Guild Victorian branch president, told the AJP that the pharmacy sector already includes significant competition.

“When economists such as Graeme Samuel say there is no competition among pharmacies and that pharmacy is a monopoly—we say there is plenty of competition where the price is not fixed by the Government PBS scheme—and pharmacy is hardly a monopoly when there are around 5,000 owners of more than 5,700 community pharmacy small businesses,” Mr Tassone said.

“Claims that a particular medicine costs five time more in rural areas than in the city are just self-serving and misleading spin.

“There have been earlier claims of medicine costing up to three times more in rural areas – are we upping the ante now to generate publicity?

“While Graeme Samuel or his associates at Chemist Warehouse may be able to find an aberrant example here or there, there are literally millions of cases of subsidised medicines being dispensed under the PBS across Australia with no such price disparity.”

Mr Tassone said that more than 60% of all prescription medicines dispensed under the PBS go to pensioners and concession cardholders.

“For pensioners and concession cardholders, the price of PBS is fixed so that no patient pays more than $6.50 (the co-payment), or in some cases $5.50 if a pharmacy-funded optional dollar discount is applied

“It is a curious thing that Graeme Samuel should take such a strong interest and devote so much of his time to spruiking his views on pharmacy regulation. In the interests of transparency it would be good to know if he has any pecuniary relationship with any pharmacy group, or is it just his hobby to stretch the truth on medicine prices in the bush.

“Like a rock n’ roller on the road, Graeme Samuel is touring the country side with what he feels is his one great track to play to anybody that gives any attention.”

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