Health Minister Greg Hunt has spoken out on access to NIP vaccines, a high-cost drug solution, Medicare provider numbers, and “effectively” rejecting King Review proposals

The Minister addressed the Terry White Chemmart Masterclass and spoke on a number of subjects, particularly the Government’s goals for the health sector, as well as areas of specific concern to delegates.

One of these was the outcome of the King Review, and Mr Hunt said that the Government would respond within the next month.

“I’ve taken a fairly conservative approach to that,” he said. “I won’t pre-empt the outcomes but there were some recommendations which were quite radical, which would have shaken the pharmacy sector up.

“My primary objective, and frankly we’ve worked with the Guild and the Society all the way through, is to ensure that you have security and continuity to get on with your business.

“One of the recommendations which I have already effectively rejected was around the location rules – they wanted to significantly water down the current location rules model.”

The Government had already legislated successfully on that front, he said, by removing the sunset clause.

“I did that deliberately, because what that meant is a major threat to your bankability was removed,” the Minister said.

“It meant that the pressure in terms of interest rates, the basis points that you may have had to have had added to your mortgages or your draw-downs could potentially be reduced; and then just the stress that you feel at night, of ‘will my fundamental business model be affected?’”

The Government also struck a deal recently with the Guild around “bunny-hopping and other location rules outcomes”.

“My basic approach has been to provide security for the current model and not to sort of disrupt pharmacy as it currently stands.”

 

Medicare, NIP, $1 discounts and pathology

The Minister told TerryWhite Chemmart delegates that a solution to cash flow issues around expensive drugs was on the horizon.

With sector representatives like Rhonda and Terry White, the Guild’s Anthony Tassone and others, he had discussed “the need to ensure that the carrying costs of high-cost medicines is dealt with”.

“So we are very close to an agreement with the Guild which will significantly reduce the carrying cost of high-cost medicines, so as you don’t have the out-of-pocket risks.”

He said there is a “bit more to do, but I think that within the next six weeks we will have that agreement, and in terms of your cash flow, that I think is a very important outcome”.

Delegates applauded at this announcement.

Mr Hunt also told the conference that issuing Medicare provider numbers to pharmacists would be “hard”.

“I don’t want to create any false expectations on it,” he said.

“I’m always happy to keep working but I’d rather not create a false expectation. That one is something which I would say is not going to happen overnight, and not something I want to make a false promise on.”

He similarly said he would not make false promises regarding the unpopular $1 copayment discount on scripts introduced by predecessor Sussan Ley.

“I am very alert that I have responsibilities both to pharmacies and to patients,” he said.

Mr Hunt also told pharmacists that allowing pharmacists across the country to vaccines under the NIP – as is the case only in Victoria – was a matter for the states.

But “I would encourage all of the states to agree to pharmacists delivering flu vaccinations under the National Immunisation Program.”

The issue of pathology – a contentious issue in recent years after an Amcal-based pathology program was scrapped – was also raised, and it appears that Mr Hunt supports pharmacy’s involvement.

He discussed the “great prospect” of a “national genomics mission which will include – and this is very important – point of care diagnosis where much of the work that we see in terms of pathology will be done on site whether it’s at the doctor’s or the pharmacist’s”.

“So as you do your planning through this conference, I would stretch the horizons and think, ‘what are our point of care diagnostic options in terms of the great new waves of pathology?’” he said.

“I come from seeing new wearable devices the same as a watch, which don’t just monitor your heart rate, but they can identify a heart attack in advance, which provides the warning and gives you the opportunity to do that; to see new forms of on-site diagnosis for sepsis.

“So whether it’ll be in the pharmacy or the clinic, you’ll be able to do the testing on-site so I would urge you to look at those opportunities in the planning to expand what you do as pharmacies.”