Can we stop the medicine arms race?

Patients at risk of “exploitative manipulation” from medicines lobbyists if PBS politicisation continues, doctor tells parliament

Arguments have continued to rage in Federal Parliament over claims of the apparent politicisation of the process of listing medicines on the PBS. 

As reported yesterday, the government and opposition have been arguing over proposed amendments to the PBS safety net threshold, and whether there has been a delay in the listing of PBAC-approved medicines for political reasons.

Debate has continued, with MPs discussing an ALP motion the censure the government “for failing to recognise and address” barriers to accessing affordable medicines.

Speaking in the House of Representatives yesterday, Dr Mike Freelander (ALP, NSW), a paediatrician, condemned what he said was the ignoring of independent advice on which medicines should be added to the PBS. He said an “arms race” could develop as the pharmaceutical industry lobbied the government.

“It has been the longstanding practice of successive governments to accept and act on the
advice of independent experts—the Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee—when listing medicines on the PBS.

“If we don’t do that, we end up having an arms race of lobbyists who lobby for these respective medications. That is something that we must not do. It also leads us to an exploitative manipulation of our patients,” Dr Freelander said.

“As a doctor, one who has prescribed medications listed on the PBS for now over 40 years, I think that that is the last thing we should be doing. I think it’s a great shame that the current health minister has attempted to do this”. 

Pharmacist Emma McBride (ALP, NSW), who introduced the original censure motion, said “if the minister must take credit for each new listing, he must also take responsibility for the growing delays and failure to list medications which have been recommended by the independent experts.”

Government MPs continued to defend their record. Government Whip Nicolle Flint (Lib, SA) said: “just yesterday, the Health Minister announced the addition of cystic fibrosis medicine Symdeko for patients over the age of 12 with specific gene mutations. The minister also announced that the listing for the medicine Orkambi would be expanded for children between the ages of two and five years old.

“This is expected to provide new or improved treatment options for over 1,400 people who might otherwise pay up to $250,000 a year,” she said.

“We are also helping 3,000 women with breast cancer by subsidising the medicine Kisqali, which, without
subsidy, can cost more than $71,000 per year. We are also subsidising Spinraza for Australian children with spinal muscular atrophy, which would otherwise cost these families more than $367,000 a year.

“Make no mistake: these listings make a life-changing difference to these people who need the medicines, to their families and to their friends. That’s why our government is committed to continuing our strong record of making more medicines available to more people.”

Ms Flint also commented on the safety net reduction bill, currently under debate, saying it would “benefit
up to around 1.6 million concessional patients and 129,000 general patients, allowing them to reach the PBS safety net sooner and reducing their out-of-pocket costs”. 

“This motion is yet another attempt by Labor to play politics with an issue of critical importance to so many Australians.”

The PBS debate was again adjourned, and resumption will be made an order of the day for the next sitting of Parliament.

Health Department officials are due to front the Senate Estimates Committee’s supplementary budget estimates session later this week.


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  1. Greg Kyle

    It would also be nice if the MPs & ministers would stop using brand names and giving the sponsor a fee jump start with brand recognition. They should only be allowed to use generic names … then again, it should also apply to all health professionals…

  2. Pete

    NHS medicines have their prices capped – that is unarguable. That a metro discount pharmacy can try to discount them to a fraction of the cost does not mean rural pharmacies are price gouging, it simply means that some rural pharmacies cannot afford or may choose not to to discount an agreed NHS maximum price. Generally you will find the cost of employing a pharmacist in a regional area requires not only a salary close to double the metro counterpart, but also accommodation and travel expenses. Its often the same reason you don’t get rural GP’s bulk billing.

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