Labor ‘very much’ understands view that $1 discount didn’t work


Catherine King addresses delegates at APP2019. Image: AJP.

Medicines affordability will be top of mind for Labor should it win office, says Catherine King, saying the party supports full scope of practice

Shadow Minister for Health Catherine King told the APP2019 conference on the Gold Coast this morning that a Labor government would honour the 6CPA, and lead “early and inclusive” negotiations towards the next agreement.

In a speech which followed that of Health Minister Greg Hunt, Ms King said that his announcement of extra funding for the AHI fee would be supported “in principle” by Labor, and honoured if it wins government, though the party will need to look at the details in the Budget.

Ms King told the conference that health would be a key focus for Labor in the run-up to the upcoming federal election.

“I said at last year’s conference that I hoped the next time I joined you it would be in a different capacity,” the Shadow Minister told delegates. “Well it hasn’t quite worked out that way because of the timing of this conference and the timing of the election – so next year perhaps.”

As well as citing Labor’s recent National Platform, which now recognises that the National Medicines Policy an the PBS are underpinned by the community pharmacy network and its pharmacists, Ms King cited a letter which the Opposition Leader, Bill Shorten, has sent to the Guild outlining its plans should it win office.

She cited Government data which shows that one in 14 people delays or avoids filling scripts due to their cost, which means hundreds of thousands of people do not visit pharmacies or take their medicines as prescribed.

“I know you see many of them each day, as people ask you whether they can avoid taking some scripts or whether they can delay it, it’s a challenge that community pharmacists see,” she told delegates. 

She said the current Government’s 2014 proposed increase in the copayment had been “fought very hard” by Labor.

“We also very much understand the view that the optional $1 discount, which the current Government introduced in 2016, has not improved the affordability of medicines for most Australians.

“We will work with pharmacists and the medicines sector to improve access to medicines on the PBS and the National Immunisation Program, reducing the unnecessary delays and withdrawals we’ve seen under this Government

“We will also work with you to address other barriers to access, such as the difficulty of attracting and retaining pharmacists in some parts of Australia.

“The next agreement will also need to consider the role of pharmacists in primary health care reform. Labor shares the Guild’s belief that pharmacists should work to their full scope of practice, without fragmenting care or duplicating services.”

Ms King also reiterated Labor’s plans for a permanent Australian Health Reform Commission, one of the first priorities of which would be primary care reform.

“Community pharmacy is obviously an important part of this and I look forward to working with the Guild in this area.

“Your scope of practice has already expanded into services that are also provided by other professions.

“But as you have heard me say many times before, I think the greater opportunity is in services that aren’t provided now, or aren’t provided consistently enough. If community pharmacies can identify and address gaps in our primary health care system – and contribute to system integration – you will serve patients more and better.

“Our letter to the Guild also makes completely clear that Labor supports the current system of community pharmacy – including the Location Rules, which we voted to make permanent in 2018.”

Labor would also ask a COAG Health Council to consider whether it is possible and desirable to harmonise state laws and programs on the supply of medicines and vaccines, opioid dependence treatment and continuity of supply after natural disasters.

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