Complaints over pharmacy cannabis prices


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The Department of Health says it has nothing to do with regulating the prices charged by pharmacies for medicinal cannabis products 

Complaints regarding clinic consultations and the prices charged for resultant prescriptions for medicinal cannabis products have nothing to do with it, says the Department of Health. 

The Department was responding to a Question on Notice from this year’s Senate Estimates hearings in which Senator Rachel Siewert (Greens, WA) asked whether there was any regulation on the prices being charged for these products.

In particular, she highlighted pharmacy’s that were linked to a medical clinic. 

“Feedback from patients is that the prices that are generally being charged for clinic consultations and medicinal cannabis products prescribed by clinic doctors are exorbitant,” Senator Siewert said.

“Some clinics have a pharmacy arm (owned by the clinic group) which will only dispense certain products sponsored by companies with which the clinics have a commercial deal.

“What is the Department doing to regulate this conduct – for example, is it engaging with relevant regulatory authorities to ensure that clinic and pharmacy practices are properly regulated?”

In response, the Department said that “the Australian Government does not regulate fees charged for health care services by private healthcare providers”.

“Patients have the right, however, to ask for an estimate of fees before receiving a service in order to make an informed decision.

“The price a supplier charges for non-PBS (full cost or private) medicines, such as unapproved medicinal cannabis products provided through the Special Access or Authorised Prescriber Schemes is determined by the supplier and not by the Government”.

“The Department of Health does not have a role in regulating health professional conduct or clinical practice. Complaints regarding clinical practice issues are matters for the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA),” the Department added in its response.

It also advised that “general complaints” about healthcare services could be directed to the Health Care Complaints Commission (or its equivalent) in each state or territory.

“Allegations of practice related to anti-competitive practice and behaviour can be referred to the Australian Competition & Consumer Commission”.

“Further, state and territory governments regulate the prescribing and pharmacy supply of prescription medicines in accordance with their respective drugs and poisons legislation”.

 

 

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6 Comments

  1. JimT
    07/07/2021

    I have a personal friend who has ventured along the CBD path. She is an age pensioner. Doctors fee at the clinic in the $100’s. Then she needs to get her script filled , over $200 for 25 days supply. While she was on the trial she was never actually given the price she would need to pay other than it would be expensive. After 2 scripts being filled she has worked out that she can not afford this and if she knew what the actual price was she would not have started. She has been back to her clinic doctor and now they have “done a deal with the supplier” and will supply her direct from the clinic at around the $100+ mark per script. That is still a lot every month though. She is still contemplating whether she can afford it and medical outcomes so far have not been exciting either,- but it takes time- but how long??

  2. Jarrod McMaugh
    08/07/2021

    “Some clinics have a pharmacy arm (owned by the clinic group) which will only dispense certain products sponsored by companies with which the clinics have a commercial deal.

    That situation is not a standard pharmacy, especially if it is owned by the clinic.

    This is just a “pill mill” model, and one that has been seen with other “business models” in the past with erectile dysfunction, weight loss, and hair regrowth.

    It is frustrating that pharmacists are being caught up in this when there may not even be a pharmacist working in this particular scenario.

  3. James Lawson
    08/07/2021

    My personal experience with CBD supply in pharmacy makes me believe the current supply model we use actively contributes to the dispensary and medical centre model described in the above article.

    First, to supply CBD therapy requires TGA SAS approval, which specifies the particular brand. The average community pharmacy has little incentive to range a variety of CBD products on the rare occasion that their stock will perfectly match the TGA approval. Only at a location with an adjacent medical centre that specializes in this treatment would it be a viable business model to stock these products.

    Second, the price to consumers is dictated by the supplier’s cost of goods. Their prices are based on the cost of manufacturing the products, the cost of importing those products, the cost of navigating the red tape involved in supplying those products, the risk of legal repercussions from their business being sued by various parties with interests in the CBD landscape.

    Then finally, we have the pharmacy responsible for supplying this product to the patient. We would assume they pay rent, utilities and wages, so they must charge a mark-up on the goods they sell to turn a profit.

    Except, in my experience, that’s rarely the case outside of a CBD dispensary. With the few patients we’ve had through my community pharmacy accessing CBD therapy, the cost of goods, along with the delivery fees and failure to gain discounts for buying in bulk, all equal zero profit using the manufacturer’s recommended retail price. In these cases, our business delivers this product at a loss simply to aid our regular patients, hoping their continued goodwill will make up the difference.

    Even when charging the patient the base cost of goods, the sticker shock value is strong. Whether this is a fair market price or not depends on the amount of competition in the market. If the demand is high enough and the possibility exists for someone to make the product cheaper, then it’s an opportunity for entrepreneurs to build a profitable business. Does anyone think they could do it cheaper, given the current legal framework?

    • JimT
      08/07/2021

      James, been there done that for 40 years. What my concern was that the patient was basically given hope at a high price without the price being given from the outset. With the patient being treated for it’s potential psychological benefits puts them in a vulnerable position. Almost false hope…not a good look from the practitioner.

  4. Andrew
    09/07/2021

    Just a reminder, medicinal cannabis is available without having to deal with these clinics or the stupid SAS system.

    Have the prescriber write the script for a specific blend or component and take to a compounding pharmacy, which is exempt from the requirements for SAS. Often same day turnaround as opposed to the weeks via SAS.

    A well informed doctor should be able to prescribe a blend for which no commercial product is available.

    • Andrew
      09/07/2021

      For a better understanding of the MC space in Australia have a look at the board members for the various companies.

      There’s very little indication that these companies exist as much more than investment vehicles.

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