Harper Review ‘muddled, intellectually lazy,’ says Quilty

Word "review" in metal type

The Harper Review’s final report is “muddled and intellectually lazy,” Guild executive director David Quilty writes in this week’s edition of forefront.

“The final report of the Harper Competition Policy Review is a profoundly disappointing document from the proponents of community pharmacy deregulation,” Quilty writes.

“It utterly fails to make the case to demonstrate that any benefits from deregulation would outweigh the costs and risks entailed in dismantling a system that is not broken and enjoys the overwhelming support of the Australian public.”

Quilty says it’s as if the Review Panel and Treasury drafters did not see a need to provide empirical evidence to show that deregulation of community pharmacy would mean better outcomes for consumers.

“The fact they believe it, for them, seems to be sufficient in itself,” he says. “They are right and anyone who thinks otherwise is simply labelled a protectionist or a vested interest. Game, set and match!

“Fortunately, the Australian public are not so gullible. They trust and support their local community pharmacy.

“They know this is one of the parts of the health system that works really well and can be relied upon to meet their needs.”

Quilty quotes Prime Minister Tony Abbott, who told the Guild’s Annual Dinner last November that he would not approach national problems in a way which does not respect existing institutions:

“I am not going to run around solving non-problems, and I am not going to put theory ahead of practice, and when I know that something works I want to support it,” the PM told the Dinner.

“I do not want to go for something which is untried and unproven against something which is tried and is proven, and I never want to promote theory over practice.

“And one of the things that we can most depend upon in this uncertain world of ours is that if there is a community pharmacy for you that is something that you can absolutely rely on.”

In effect, Quilty writes, Mr Abbott set the evidentiary bar for the Harper Review – and so the final report falls “abysmally” short of the mark.

“Last November, the Guild lodged a comprehensive economic analysis to the Review, undertaken by the country’s most qualified and respected economists, which clearly demonstrated the considerable public and consumer benefit of the longstanding community pharmacy model,” Quilty writes.

“A national geospatial analysis demonstrated that pharmacies are not only more accessible than medical centres, supermarkets and banks; they also provide genuine choice for consumers and the location rules deliver this high level of accessibility in a very cost efficient way.

“A cost benefit analysis found that pharmacy deregulation would result in a net loss in consumer value of over $700 million a year, a level of detriment that could not conceivably be offset through any available price reductions.

“In the face of such evidence, the Guild expected the Competition Policy Review to undertake its own thorough, empirically-based, economic analysis, particularly after the Guild’s National President and its economic experts took the trouble to present our submission verbally to the Panel.

“Instead, the Harper Report contains absolutely no economic analysis; effectively pretends the Guild’s analysis does not exist; and instead relies on selective quotes of the subjective opinions of such well-known economic and policy experts as Chemist Warehouse, the Consumer Health Forum and the pharmacy union, as well as citing Sue Dunlevy.”

The Harper Review’s report has simply not made the case for reform, Quilty writes: he says it did not identify any robust evidence of deficiencies in the existing model and failed to provide a feasible, demonstrably better alternative.

“It didn’t even attempt to refute the comprehensive economic analysis provided to it,” he writes.

“Despite these glaring deficiencies, the Guild is taking nothing for granted and, as the Government considers the Harper Report over the next eight weeks, we will be putting our case strongly to the politicians and their advisers.”

He says the Liberal, National and Labor parties have all made clear public commitments to the existing regulations governing community pharmacy ownership and location.

“We have no reason to believe they will not keep their promises,” he says.

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