The Pharmacy Guild has spoken out saying it has been misrepresented in the mainstream media, following recent reports on the location rules and medicines pricing
The Pharmacy Guild has commented on a recent News Limited report by Sue Dunlevy, which stated that the location rules were forcing patients in the bush to pay three times more for life-changing medicines than people in the city.
This story was based around a Chemist Warehouse survey of 325 rural Victorians, which found that many rural residents were driving long distances to access discounted scripts in larger centres, among other findings including that 80% wanted a discount pharmacy to open in their town.
It quoted former ACCC boss Graeme Samuel, who said the location rules were to blame for “bolstering the interests of powerful pharmacy owners at the expense of consumers who have to pay hundreds of dollars a year more for medicines”.
The story was picked up by various other media, including the ABC and WIN News.
In this week’s edition of Forefront, the Guild maintains that consumers have benefited for almost 30 years from the location rules, as they have ensured a well-distributed network of pharmacies.
“The Location Rules ensure that community pharmacies are established where there is a genuine community need, creating a viable network across the country where patients need timely and equitable access to medicines,” says the Guild.
“Eighty-seven per cent of Australians live within 2.5km of at least one pharmacy. This is not an accident of the market – it is a direct result of the Location Rules policy.
“The level of access for community pharmacies is higher than for supermarkets, banks and medical centres in both capital cities and in regional areas.
“The Location Rules prevent the clustering of pharmacies in more lucrative, higher socio-economic areas, which in turn may deprive patients (particularly those who cannot travel longer distances and those living in rural area or lower socio-economic outer metropolitan suburbs) from having timely and convenient access to a local pharmacy.”
The Guild says that the Dunlevy story “misrepresented and misquoted the Guild’s view on Location Rules”.
“It also ignored the benefits of the community pharmacy model, the availability of generic medicines, and the safety net mechanisms of the subsidised medicine scheme, the PBS.”
Also in this week’s edition of Forefront, interim executive director Pam Price writes that the principle of universal health care was breached in 2015 when the Federal Government and then Health Minister Sussan Ley changed the law to allow pharmacies to discount the PBS patient co-payment by up to $1, with pharmacies absorbing this cost. The controversial measure came into being on 1 January 2016.
“The Pharmacy Guild opposed this flawed policy because it means consumers may pay a different price for PBS subsidised prescriptions depending on their location,” writes Ms Price.
“It is also the case that this optional discount is illusory for the sickest and neediest patients – those who use multiple medicines and reach the PBS safety net during the calendar year. For those patients, there is no net financial benefit, and the only effect of the $1 discount is to delay their access to the safety net.
“Currently across Australia, the optional pharmacy-funded discount is only being applied to about 28% of prescriptions. That’s created an inequity which should be addressed.”
She reiterated the Guild’s call to Government to implement an across-the-board $1 copayment discount for all patients, funded by the Government, “so that the universality of the PBS is restored”.
“Currently we have concession cardholders and general patients in different parts of the country paying different prices for the same subsidised medicine,” she writes.
“This measure will fix that, making it fairer for everybody.”