Extending the uncertainty

Two month scripts remain under “careful review” Minister tells media

Extending prescription lengths for some medicines to two months remains “under careful review” by the Federal Government, Health Minister Greg Hunt has said on national television.

Speaking on the Channel 7 Sunrise program on Monday (30 Sept), Minister Hunt said “we’re reviewing that idea carefully. We always work very closely with the medical experts and so we want to make sure that each idea is appropriate and effective…”

Minister Hunt was responding to a question from Sunrise host David Koch, who asked: “There’s a push to extend the expiry date of prescriptions for people on long-term medication. They’re to give patients two months’ supply rather than monthly scripts, saving them visits back to the doctor to get the new script done and the cost of pharmacy dispensing fees. If access to affordable medicine is a priority for the government, why aren’t you backing this as well?”

While the Minister declined to give a firm response to Mr Koch’s questions, he also refused to directly rule out such a change. When Mr Koch reiterated his question, asking: “But you’re going to review this – this prescription issue that a lot are pushing for? You’re looking at it”, Mr Hunt said “Yeah, so that idea is one that we are considering”.

Speaking to pharmacy media at PSA19, in late July, the Minister said they were “carefully consulting on that [extended scripts], which is actually what we said before the election and that continues to be the case”.

The Australian Medical Association (AMA) is one group that continues to push the case for extended prescriptions.

AMA president, Dr Tony Bartone, said in a radio interview that “where the patient is stable and having ongoing care delivered under the auspices of a treating family medical practitioner, they should be allowed to have longer term quantities prescribed, to ensure that they don’t have to go back and pay an extra dispensing fee, an extra component for their care, if it’s obviously working and being managed appropriately.

“The PBAC has made the recommendations. And we support the independent umpire,” Dr Bartone said.

The proposals appeared to have been scrapped before the 2019 Federal Budget was delivered, following intense criticism from the Pharmacy Guild of Australia.

However the release in late July of Department of Health responses to Senate Estimates questions without notice indicated that extended prescriptions were still under review, as was confirmed soon after by Minister Hunt.

“The Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee recommendation is now the subject of consultation with consumers, the medical community, the pharmacy sector and other interested stakeholders,” the Department of Health stated.

A newly released answer to an Estimates question without notice revealed the Department of Health had not modelled for any longer prescription period than two months.

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