PBS ‘Razor gangs’ to hurt vulnerable: Andrew Topp


old-fashioned straight razor to illustrate Andrew Topp piece

Pharmacists around the country are rallying to protect Australia’s most vulnerable patients, says a Canberra pharmacist, ahead of planned changes to the PBS in next week’s Federal Budget.

The Coalition Budget Razor Gang have planned a suite of changes to the PBS which will see medication costs skyrocket, says University of Canberra pharmacist Andrew Topp.

While negotiations for the 6th Community Pharmacy Agreement have been progressing well for several months, pharmacists have been blindsided by the sweeping cuts the Government have proposed, he says.

Topp says that typical pensioner patients may see their annual drug bill treble or quadruple.

“Currently patients drug costs are largely capped to the current safety net of $366. Under the proposed changes this spend will increase hugely.

“There are plans before the Senate from last year to increase script charges by about $1 to $5.

“And to increase the number of scripts required to reach the safety net. This will add close to $100, which far outweighs the possible savings from the cynical $1 discount the government has proposed.

“The government has clearly stated that the aim of these policies is to reduce the number of people reaching the safety net.”

In addition, patients will face a significant reduction in the number of subsidised items when over-the-counter items are delisted from the PBS, purely because they are relatively cheap and can be purchased without a prescription, he says.

“The problem with this policy is that these items, even though OTC, are therapeutically essential. Removing them from the PBS means patients will pay more, in some cases three or four times more.

“And this will increase with time because of the lack of PBS price controls; one thing the PBS is very good at is controlling prices that drug manufacturers can charge.

“Items removed from the PBS historically have increased by 300-400%; this cost will be borne in full by patients who can least afford them.

“A typical couple on one or two scripts a week currently paying $366 a year, could potentially be paying over $1000 per year if all of these policies are introduced.”

Topp says pharmacists will inevitably be accused of protecting their own turf.

“This is absolutely not the case. The dollar cut per prescription for pharmacists is paltry compared to the financial imposts that Australia’s sick and disabled will face.

“Our concern is protecting patient benefits and ensuring all patients can access the medicines they need at a price they can afford.

“Economic rationalists, bureaucrats and Newscorp journalists will of course raise the lack of competition in the pharmacy sector

“Pharmacy by its nature is heavily regulated. Pharmacists cannot decide what they stock, how they store it, what price they pay for it, what price they sell it for, who they can sell it to, and under what conditions they sell it.

“Importantly pharmacists cannot determine their own margin on the bulk of products they sell. So yes, pharmacies have anti-competitive behaviour inflicted on them.

“But this is because medications are not normal items of commerce. They require a strict regulatory and therapeutic framework to ensure safe, appropriate and cost-effective use.

“Successful conclusion of 6CPA negotiations is essential to the continued viability of the PBS,” Topp says. “The current proposals are nothing more than cynical attempts to dismantle the PBS by stealth.”

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