Medicines costs a factor in healthcare inequality: McBride

The Health Minister “just does not get it or does not care” about Australians not filling scripts due to cost, says pharmacist politician Emma McBride

In the House of Representatives this week, a discussion on “The Government’s failures on health policy” moved by Shadow Health spokesman Chris Bowen saw Health Minister Greg Hunt point out that since it took office, it has listed more than 2,100 new or amended medicines.

Following comments on hospital funding cuts by Julie Collins, Shadow Minister for Ageing and Seniors, and on “record spending” for public hospitals and investment in mental health by Assistant Minister to the Deputy Prime Minister Andrew Gee, Ms McBride pointed out delays in access to health services in regional areas.

“What people in regional Australia deserve is good, strong representation and a minister who cares about them and our community, not about spruiking PBS listings,” said Ms McBride, who worked as at Wyong Hospital for 10 years, as a specialist mental health pharmacist and chief pharmacist.

“One thing about spruiking PBS listings that particularly disturbs me as a pharmacist is: what about people delaying or avoiding filling prescriptions?” she told the House.

“You can spruik listing any drug on the PBS, but what if people can’t afford to fill prescriptions?

“That is particularly a problem in regional Australia. According to ABS data, one in 14 people—7% of people—avoid taking prescribed medicine due to cost, and we know the rate of people skipping prescriptions is twice as high in the most disadvantaged areas as in the least disadvantaged; it is 10% of people in the most disadvantaged areas.

“This means that the cost of medicines is contributing to healthcare inequality in Australia.”

Ms McBride said that she has had direct experience with people who cannot afford their medicines.

“You can spruik listing PBS drugs, but if people can’t afford them then someone will delay or avoid filling a prescription.

“I’ve been there in an outpatient clinic, where a mental health patient said to me, ‘Which medication can I do without?’

“These are real people with major mental health problems who need proper support, and they’re having to make this decision that no-one should have to make: ‘Which one can I skip? Which one can I delay?’

“People are sometimes taking medication every second day, or they might get one prescription filled one month and another prescription filled another month.

“This is the state of health care in regional Australia. This minister just does not get it or does not care, and I haven’t even got to vaccines, the national immunisation program and the outbreaks that are happening in communities yet. This minister is neglecting regional and rural Australia.”

She urged the Minister to visit regional hospitals like Wyong, whether emergency departments or mental health inpatient units, and “see the circumstances of people’s lives”.

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