Uncertainty over the patient script copayment for prescriptions in the Budget mars an otherwise very exciting Sixth Community Pharmacy Agreement, says Melanie Walker, Acting CEO of the Public Health Association of Australia.
“We’re pretty excited by some of the initiatives in the new Pharmacy Agreement, particularly increasing pharmacist input into the primary care space,” Walker told the AJP.
“From a public health perspective, we’re excited about the measures that will reduce the price of medicines and increase the use of generics, and excited about initiatives to increase access to new medicines via the PBS.
“The one thing that sticks out, though, the elephant in the room, is the raising of the Safety Net threshold and increasing the copayment.
“It was interesting to see, last week, Minister Ley went back on that and said, ‘we won’t get those measures through the Senate, so we’ll give them up,’ and the next day she said she could only do that if she could find savings in the Budget.
“So the Pharmacy Agreement is trying to reduce costs to the customer by up to $1, but there’s still this spectre that could increase the costs of medicines and reduce access. From a policy perspective it’s a bit confusing as to where the Government is going with this.”
Walker says that the optional copayment discount would shift financial pressure to community pharmacy, which is not something PHAA supports.
“The increased copayment would more than cancel out any competitive advantage if a pharmacy applied the discount, so it’d be negative for patients and probably negative for pharmacy as well,” she says.
“It seems that the Minister is trying to do her best to achieve good outcomes, but the whole Government policy around PBS medicines is a bit confused.
“So the positive things we see in the Agreement could be more than undone by measures in the Budget.”
She says the PHAA supports the funding for an enhanced role for pharmacy in primary care, particularly given that this could increase accessibility of services.
“Pharmacists are highly trusted and they’re accessible to communities, where they can build on the work done by GPs and increase access to primary care networks, particularly in rural and regional areas where it’s often hard to see a GP,” she says.