“Common sense” changes passed by Senate

The Senate has passed a bill of changes for pharmacists covering disaster processes, date of death entitlements

The National Health Amendment (Pharmaceutical Benefits) Bill 2016 was passed by the Senate on Monday 27 March, containing amendments to the National Health Act 1953 aimed at updating and supporting “the efficient operation” of the PBS.

Put forward by Sussan Ley while she was Health Minister, the new Bill means if a pharmacist’s premises are affected by disaster or exceptional circumstances, they may be able to request permission from the Department of Health to continue supplying medicines at alternative premises.

This permission may be granted for up to six months from the day after the disaster or exceptional circumstances relating to the affected premises, with extension of the period, if necessary.

The changes do away with the previous “onerous” process involving two full applications and two new PBS approval numbers.

The bill also provides amendments to ensure that concessional entitlements for pharmaceutical benefits remain valid for concessional beneficiaries and their dependents until midnight on the date of death.

“The amendments reflect long-standing health policy and will allow online processing systems to derive the PBS entitlement by using the person’s social security entitlement that would have applied if the person had not died,” reads the bill.

“These changes benefit consumers by ensuring access to pharmaceutical benefits and safety net benefits at the correct entitlement on the date of death, and pharmacies by ensuring payment of claims at the correct rate.

“Retrospective commencement will provide for payment to pharmacies of outstanding amounts on concessional pharmaceutical benefits supplied on the date of a person’s death since 1 April 2015.”

Commenting on the change, a spokesperson for the Pharmacy Guild of Australia said: “The ‘day of death’ amendment addresses a longstanding and delicate anomaly. It is a common sense solution to the problem, mainly encountered by community pharmacies who deliver services and medication to nursing homes”.

Under the bill amendments, computer programs may be used administratively in order streamline processes, such as fully automated online processing of PBS claims and prescribing approvals.

“Automated online processing for pharmacy claims will reduce administrative work and payment times for pharmacists,” said Queensland Senator James McGrath, Assistant Minister to the Prime Minister.

“The amendments proposed today [Monday 27 March] will deliver efficiencies that will improve the operation of the PBS. The changes reflect the government’s commitment to digital health services and to reducing red tape.

“The changes are necessary and practical. They will benefit prescribers and pharmacists directly and benefit patients by reducing the administrative work of doctors. The Pharmacy Guild of Australia has said that these are common-sense changes. We can only agree. I commend the bill to the Senate,” he said.

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