Cost a barrier to scripts for 1.8 million

The number of people deferring access to prescribed medication due to cost has remained steady, at 7.6% of the population

The Productivity Commission’s Report on Government Services 2016 found that Australia-wide, around 1.8 million or 7.6% of people deferred accessing their medication due to cost in 2015-16, unchanged since 2013-4, but a drop of 0.3% since 2012-3.

Queenslanders (8.4%) were the most likely to put off or not fill a script, followed by consumers in the ACT (7.8%), South Australians (7.7%) and Western Australians (7.5%). The data shows that only 4.3% of consumers in the Northern Territory did so, but cautions that the Territory’s data excludes discrete Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, who make up about 25% of the estimate resident NT population.

Australians also put off seeing their GP due to cost. While in 2015-6 85.4% of non-referred GP visits were bulk-billed, 4.1% of the population reported that they delayed or did not visit a GP in the previous 12 months because of cost.

Earlier this month AMA president Dr Michael Gannon told 2GB’s Warren Moore that he has seen patients who decide not to visit a doctor due to cost “every week of my life throughout my career”.

In discussing the AMA’s pre-Budget submission and the Coalition Government’s proposed copayment increase, which he described as “political poison,” Dr Gannon said that some people “will eschew important things like a visit to the GP to spend on other factors.

“The costs add up, and even if it’s only, let’s say a $5 co-payment, if you’ve got three kids and then you turn around and go and pay another three lots of subsidised prescription medications, even if that’s the case you’re often talking about pensioners who might be on five, six, seven different medications from chronic diseases,” he said. “These costs add up for people on meagre fixed incomes.”

The AMA had also warned, just prior to the July 2016 election, that the proposed script copay increase would deter patients from filling scripts.

The report also shows that between 2012 and 2016, the number of people per pharmacy decreased in urban areas (from 4082 to 3884) and in rural areas (from 4148 to 3615).

Taking into account the 19 medical practitioners and 162 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander primary health care services also approved to provide PBS medicines to the community in remote/very remote areas, there were 3065 people per PBS approved provider in 2016.


PBS expenditure

The report also found that Australian Government expenditure through the PBS and RPBS on prescription medicines filled at pharmacies was around $8.3 billion in 2015-16, 96.2% of which was through the PBS.

PBS expenditure per person was $332, “representing a continued decrease from the 10-year peak in 2009-10”.

The proportion of PBS expenditure that is concessional fell from 80.4 to 76% between 2006-7 and 2015-6.

Separately funded PBS medicines to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander primary healthcare services in remote and very remote areas came to $27.9 million, down from $30.1 million in 2014-5.

Around 208 million services – 91.7% of which were concessional – were provided under the PBS in 2015-6, equating to 8.7 per person.

A further 10.5 million services were provided under the RPBS in the same period.

PBS expenditure per person was highest in inner regional areas and lowest in remote/very remote areas.

The full report can be accessed here.

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