Guild condemns ‘greedy chemist’ copayment claims

$1 being picked up

The Pharmacy Guild has condemned a News Corp article which has claimed that “greedy chemists” are failing to pass on the discount on prescription copayments of up to $1

“You should be paying $1 less every time you get a prescription filled,” wrote News journalist Sue Dunlevy.

“But greedy chemists are denying cash-strapped pensioners, chronically ill patients and families the government’s dollar discount on prescription medicines.”

Dunlevy writes that the Federal Government is “preparing to reward pharmacists in next week’s May budget with extra funding to compensate them for falling prescription volume”.

“It comes as a new business analysis reveals government rules protecting the pharmacy industry monopoly are undermining competition and costing the sick money.”

She cites Health Department figures which show that the proportion of scripts dispensed with a discount has fallen to 28% – down from 30% in January 2016 when the discount was first permitted.

The article quotes Consumers’ Health Forum head Leanne Wells, who said that the fact that the discount was being offered in a minority of instances “shows a lack of vigorous competition between pharmacies”.

Pharmacy Guild Executive Director David Quilty has written a Letter to the Editor of News Corp publications criticising the article.

“Sue Dunlevy’s claim that ‘greedy chemists’ are making patients pay more by denying them an optional $1 discount on their medicines is wrong,” he writes.

“On the contrary, pharmacies are working in partnership with the Federal Government to deliver very large medicine price reductions of 50% or more through PBS reforms.  

“The low take-up of the option $1 discount simply reflects the fact that the sickest patients understand there is no net benefit for them as it means they take longer to reach their PBS Safety Net.”

Former Health Minister Sussan Ley was buoyant about the $1 copayment discount when it was first to be introduced, telling the 2015 Guild Parliamentary Dinner that “I am of the view that price competition will drive value for the consumer… This is in line with other parts of the health sector which discount patient contributions as a matter of course.”

The Guild has consistently opposed the discount.

It’s not the first time the Guild has slammed an article by Ms Dunlevy.

In March 2015 an article titled, “How a pharmacy monopoly pushes up your medicine price and makes pharmacies million dollar businesses” also drew significant criticism for its claims that “pharmacists earn $650,000 a year from dispensing medicines under the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme”.

And in February 2016, Guild president George Tambassis responded to another article about the $1 discount, in which it was claimed the Guild was making misleading statements.

At the time he said that “It would be misleading not to tell patients about the impact of the discount on their access to the Safety Net.”

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  1. Andrew

    On one hand, guild promotes timely and accessible medications for all Australians, and on the other hand opposes a policy that reduces the price of said product to the consumer (cost being one of the top-3 reasons why patients don’t fill their scripts).
    Don’t like the $1 discount? Maybe we need new negotiators.

    • geoff

      The Govt sets the script price. The Guild is opposing the policy not because it reduces the price to consumers but because it reduces remuneration for pharmacies and ultimately services for consumers.
      If the Govt wished to reduce the price to consumers while maintaining the agreed remuneration for providing the service, the Guild would likely be supportive.
      The aim of the copay discount was not to decrease prices to consumers (otherwise the 2014 Budget copay INCREASES would have been scrapped) but to save the Govt $340 million (from memory) , about $72 for every SN card issued with $5 scripts.
      If cost is a barrier to patients having scripts filled and effective use of medication saves hospital costs and reduces total health care cost then it would seem poor policy for the Government to be increasing script prices annually by CPI and occasionally significantly in Budgets

    • Jarrod McMaugh

      How is a policy that undermines the viability of the distribution model for medications improving timely access to medications for all Australians?

  2. Steve Donaldson

    Maybe the Guild should be more aggressive. Recently I took my dog to the local vet who supplied Prednefrin forte eye drops & Duogesic patches 25mcg for my pet. Price charged was 350% more than what Pharmacy charges the public. The guild should use figures like this to prove that Chemists don’t “overcharge”

  3. Toby

    This sort of story always appears in the press, just prior to the government introducing another cut in pharmacy payments on the PBS. What a co-incidence; I’m so glad the government is above leaking such anti-pharmacy claims to the press to soften up pharmacy for another round of cuts. What say you, Guild?

    • Anthony Tassone


      Rather than speculate or comment on what may or may not be included in the Federal Budget next week, it will be best to have a more informed discussion following Budget night.

      Anthony Tassone
      President, Pharmacy Guild of Australia (Victoria Branch)

      • Valerie Vaughan

        What stats are available to establish how many people reach safety net level each year
        Many pharmacies discuss this wtih their patients and offer choice to reach safety net more quickly..Patients still pay the same amount to reach safety net level. This is situation is NEVER discussed by journalists or in reply statements

  4. Ian Bodycote

    New date , same message, waste of paper and eye sight , if you’ve read one article written by this journo , you’ve read them all, turn the page and perhaps read something that is unbiased, thought provoking and objective.

  5. Harriet Wright

    We have been asked by a couple of customers because we don’t do this and our local Blooms do it. The dispensary assistants have taken it upon themselves to explain that losing a dollar a script accounts for wages for one of them and asks the customers which one they would like to nominate to go? No one else has complained!!!

    • United we stand

      You will lose ur customer base, slowly but surely. Whether we like it or not, discounting is the future if our profession. . . First they’ll get their vitamins from Blooms. Then they’ll put a few scripts in when they’re shopping. And eventually they switch over.

  6. PharmOwner

    I wonder if Sue Dunlevy was given the choice to accept an “optional” $1 per hour pay cut, would she be greedy if she refused to accept the pay cut, or would she just be standing up for herself because she provides an important, worthwhile service with a degree of responsibility?

  7. amanda cronin

    By making dispensing unprofitable the government is essentially forcing our medications to by subsidised by non evidenced based rubbish in discount pharmacies. Is that really what consumers need? Market manipulation. They might have cheap scripts but I bet the buy a heap of junk in the way out they don’t need. Bit like me shopping and Aldi for cheap food and coming one with a onesie sleeping bag and karaoke machine coming to think of it.

    Is that really what we want? Essential healthcare used as a lure to by junk in discount shops and eventually supermarkets. It’s like having underpaid doctors working in the back of a supermarket luring people into a shop. It’s unethical and not in the patients best interest

    • Paul Sapardanis

      Well written Amanda. On other forums some customers realize that discount pharmacies keeping them in store is a marketing ploy for t hem to buy junk they don’t need. Is this what people who are charged with managing peoples health outcomes shoulf do?

  8. Toby

    I have to say it: the Guild says it ‘works’ with the current Health Minister. Wrong. The Guild just tries to work with him, and influence the Health Minister. The minister pretends to listen, all the while making his plans. All this just saves face for the Guild. Then the minister dishes up his bad-for-pharmacy plan to the Guild, which the Guild knows it has no choice but to accept, unless it tears up the PBS agreement. (which it should do, but does not) The Guild swallows the minister’s set-in-stone plan, and then tries to save face by saying how great it all is, and how it could have been worse. But that line is wearing thin now.

  9. Amin-Reza Javanmard

    Funny how the article quotes from a spokesperson for a chain that offers the ‘discount’, but neglects to mention that same chain also had to enter into an undertaking with Fair Work for underpaying their staff.
    The underpayments were in the order of $600 per staff member for a total of $3.5 million, or 3,500,000 eligible discounted prescriptions.

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