Uncapped and unregulated fees are negatively impacting use of the opioid dependency treatment program, Senator claims
Questions have again been raised in Parliament about the inequities resulting from the lack of government support for the pharmacy-based opioid dependency treatment program.
Senator Rachel Siewert (Greens, WA), a long-term critic of the lack of PBS funding for the program, grilled Department of Health staff at last week’s Senate Estimates hearing.
“The current uncapped and unregulated fees which are being applied in some places are having a negative impact on people’s use of this program,” the Senator said during the hearing, reiterating claims she made at a number of previous hearings.
The Senator quizzed staffers on the recently commenced postmarket review of the program, asking about its timeframe and terms of reference.
“The Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee considered the draft terms of reference and endorsed them at it’s meeting on 7 May,” said Adriana Platona, from the DoH’s Technology Assessment and Access Division.
“The minister for health has to approve them, and the minister did so on 25 May. They are now on the website as of 28 May. The draft terms of reference are available for consultation, and the public
consultation on the draft terms of reference closes on 30 June”.
Mrs Platona said the review would be completed “12 months from when we have the final terms of reference approved by the committee and approved by the minister and can open public consultation on it and finish the review”.
“Twelve months is quite a long time. We’ve already been through, a number of times, the fact that there’s a lot of concern—including from myself—about the costs of the current program,” Senator Siewert responded.
“As an interim step, is any consideration being given to the proposal that I understand Harm Reduction Australia has put forward, which relates to section 85 and section 100? Or are you considering any other approach that deals with the inequities and costs of this program?”
“It’s 14 months away, at least [till the report is expected to be completed in July/August 2022]….. in that 14 months there are a lot of people that are going to be subject to the inequities of the program.”
Penny Shakespeare, Deputy Secretary, Health Resourcing Group said “that’s exactly the sort of thing that will be looked at through this postmarket review program. We do need to look at models of care and what’s going to provide the best access to holistic care for people—the most appropriate models of care, pharmacotherapy and other treatments”.
Senator Siewert said “In other words, you’re not doing anything for 14 months?”, to which Ms Shakespeare responded “we’re going to be working very hard on the review”.
The review panel is expected to include “eminent experts” in the field of drug and alcohol services, as well as patient consumer organisations, clinicians, the president of Harm Reduction Australia, Gino Vumbaca, and hopefully a representative from the Consumers Health Forum, Department of Health staff said..