Pharmacists, manufacturers and wholesalers have been cleared by the ACCC after being accused of hiking up prices of low-dose codeine following the upschedule
Based on reports of consumer anger over increased prices of low-dose codeine-containing products following the February upschedule decision, Health Minister Greg Hunt made a request for the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) to investigate the pricing increases.
Much of this anger and blame was directed at pharmacists.
Pharmacy Guild NSW Branch president David Heffernan hit back at the claims, pleading with the general public not to blame pharmacists for the increased retail price of the medicines, pointing out that the markup had not taken place at the pharmacy level.
And Pharmacy Guild Victorian branch president Anthony Tassone jumped in to the debate, saying: “With the only alternative of offering those products which have had a substantial price increase at a financial loss the Guild fully understands that its members, in some instances, have been left with little choice to increase the price to the patient or consumer.”
PSA national president Dr Shane Jackson said that pharmacists were “painted very poorly” over the pricing issue, which is unfortunate because “these prices have been provided to the pharmacies”.
“The manufacturers have set a cost price that’s significantly increased, and that’s a worry – and consumers, quite rightly, are annoyed because prior to 1 February it was one price and then post-1 February it’s another,” said Dr Jackson.
AJP can reveal that the ACCC has advised the Health Minister that in its investigation of the matter, they found no evidence of coordinated price increases or misleading representations regarding low-dose codeine products, and “will not be pursuing the matter any further”.
The Department of Health advised of this result in response to a question on notice at a recent Senate Community Affairs Estimates Committee meeting.
Information suggested that some sponsors had increased their wholesale and recommended retail price while others had not, stated the Department of Health.
The Pharmacy Guild of Australia also advised the department that the provision of a medicine on prescription versus over the counter “requires additional work for pharmacists and as such, pharmacists may adjust their prices to compensate for the additional work”.
The Department of Health informed the Senate Estimates Committee that additional programs have now been implemented or are being considered to assist Australians in the management of chronic pain following the upschedule.
This includes the Pain MedsCheck trial, announced on 25 January, which provides $20 million for Pain MedsChecks to be provided by community pharmacists.
It was originally slated by the Minister to kick off in February but was delayed due to the need to meet Commonwealth Grants Rules and Guidelines.
A revised start date is expected soon, said the Pharmacy Guild in March.
However the Guild told AJP this week that a firm start date has still not been set.
In a bulletin sent to Pharmacy Guild members, Guild national president George Tambassis said: “I know that a delay to the original timeline is disappointing as many Guild members are keen to commence delivering Pain MedsChecks for their patients as soon as possible”.
“However, it is important to ensure the service being trialled is robust and is able to be assessed for clinical effectiveness, cost effectiveness and comparative safety.”