Script copay increase is still Government policy


An increase to the script copayment and to the Medicare Safety Net remain Government policy, a Senate Community Affairs Legislation Committee Estimates meeting has heard.

The measure, which would increase the copayment by $5 for general scripts and 80 cents for concessional scripts, was introduced in the 2014 Budget and has languished since.

During the meeting Labor Senator Helen Polley requested clarification as to whether health savings measures including the proposed copayment increase remained Government policy.

“Is the Turnbull government still committed to increasing co-payments for the PBS medicines by $5 for general patients and 80c for concessional patients?” Senator Polley asked.

“That is a measure before the Senate and will still be policy until alternative savings have been found,” replied Health Secretary Martin Bowles.

Senator Polley also asked whether the Turnbull Government remained committed to retaining the Medicare freeze until 2020; abolishing bulk-billing incentives for pathology; and abolishing bulk-billing incentives for diagnostic imaging.

Mr Bowles confirmed that these all remain Government policy.

“Is the Turnbull government still committed to increasing the PBS safety net threshold so that patients spend more out of pocket before reaching the safety net?” asked Senator Polley.

Mr Bowles replied that this was the same issue as the MBS Safety Net, which “is a measure before the Senate”.

“The measures that government took to the election they are going to pursue. The measures you just ran through then were measures from budgets past,” he said.

“A number of them are before the Senate and will remain so until alternatives are found or those measures are passed.”

In May, Health Minister Sussan Ley told the ABC’s Fran Kelly that, “The measure is on the table and the reason why is that we are taking a responsible path back to a surplus”.

Just before the Coalition was returned to Government in July, AMA president Dr Michael Gannon warned that some Australians would find themselves unable to afford to fill scripts should the copayment increase go ahead.

“There are some people who literally can’t afford to pay $5 for a prescription. Of concern, if the whole family is sick, or if you are talking about someone who is on a number of medications, it might add up to five, ten, 15, 20 dollars,” Dr Gannon said at the time.

“We need to find a way to sustainably fund our health system; at the same time we need to find a way to protect those who need our protection.”

Labor had planned to scrap the increase. “If you are increasing the price of medicine, you are making it harder to have universal medical healthcare,” Opposition Leader Bill Shorten said at the time.

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