Flu vax charges under scrutiny

Pharmacist administers a vaccine. Source: PSA.
Pharmacist administers a vaccine. Source: PSA.

Western Australian pharmacists are not presenting patients with inappropriate charges regarding the flu vaccine, says a Guild spokesperson

An article which appeared in The West Australian on Wednesday criticised pharmacies for asking patients to “fork over cash” for vaccination against the flu.

Journalist Peta Rasdien reported that at Friendlies Chemists, patients who qualified for a free vaccination under the National Immunisation Program are being charged a “pharmacy consultation fee” of $10.

Patients who were not in one of the vulnerable groups who can access flu vaccines under the NIP were charged $19.95, while eligible HBF members could receive the jab without paying, she wrote.

Meanwhile TerryWhite Chemmart pharmacists could charge an “administration fee” for those who qualified, though they let patients know the vaccine could be access free from a GP; TWC pharmacies were also charging $19.95 for those who did not qualify for NIP vaccines.

Pharmacy 777 were telling those who qualified to access it via their GP, and charging $25 for other patients.

Ms Rasdien spoke to an RACGP spokesperson who said that the “overwhelming majority” of GPs bulk billed for flu vaccination, though they could choose not to.

The RACGP spokesperson also said that GPs were more qualified to vaccinate against flu than pharmacists.

Western Australia, Victoria and the ACT all allow NIP flu vaccine stock to be accessed through community pharmacy, and Pharmacy Guild branches in other jurisdictions such as Queensland have called for wider access to NIP vaccines in the community pharmacy channel.

Responding to the article, WA Pharmacy Guild Branch Committee member Anthony Masi told the AJP that the suggestion that the Government was offering free flu shots was misleading.

“The Guild is concerned that the story infers that inappropriate charges are being passed on to the consumer by community pharmacies,” he said.

“The story misses important details regarding what the government is paying for and how this vital service is delivered to the community and why fees are payable.

“The government is providing the NIP vaccine to the public via community pharmacy and GPs and other government agencies. A qualifying patient under the program does not incur the cost of the actual vaccine itself. This is paid for by the government.

“The provision of the GP service (venue/training/cold chain management/staff costs/vaccination materials etc) is paid for by the taxpayer via bulk billing and in some cases additional cost are levied through a gap payment payable by the patient.”

He said that it was important to note that, unlike GPs, community pharmacy has no access to bulk billing as it has no access to the Medical Benefit Scheme.

“It can only recover service costs by charging a fee to the patient,” he said.

“If this vital service is to continue community pharmacy or any provider must be able to afford to provide it.

“The charge is to cover costs – it is not as the article would appear to infer an inappropriate fee for a ‘free service’.”

A spokesperson for the PSA highlighted the benefit of pharmacist vaccination against flu.

“Allowing trained pharmacists to administer vaccines significantly increases the immunisation rates within the community and reduces the incidence of vaccine-preventable diseases,” the spokesperson said.

“The administration of vaccines by pharmacists complements the excellent work done by GPs, nurses, Indigenous Health Workers and other healthcare professionals.

“The Australian Government Department of Health advises that vaccines covered by the National Immunisation Program are free for those who are eligible.

“However, while eligible people get the vaccine for free, if the person chooses to have it done by a pharmacist, the pharmacist will charge a consultation fee to administer the vaccine as there is no eligible subsidy from the Government.”

As at the start of 20 May, there have been a total of 51,523 laboratory confirmed notifications of Influenza in Australia.

To date only 2,659 have been notified in Western Australia, while South Australia, at 14,018, has been most affected.

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