Were pharmacists really inflating codeine prices after upscheduling? Or was it due to workload or economic factors?
The Department of Health has told Parliament it is aware of “anecdotal information that some pharmacies may be charging increased prices following the 1 February 2018 changes”.
The information came in a recently supplied answer to a question on notice posed at the May round of Senate Estimates hearings.
Senator Murray Watt (ALP, Qld) had asked Health bureaucrats if the department was aware “if the cost of prescription codeine to the consumer has increased since 1 February 2018”, and asked for further information on the nature of the increases, their location and quantity.
In response, the Department said it was “aware of anecdotal information” that some pharmacies had upped prices following the schedule change.
“Price increases have been reported by consumers but also reported by various news media,” the response said.
“The reported price increases do not appear to be related to pharmacy location, wholesaler or associated with a specific brand of medicine,” the response said.
A number of possible explanations for the rise were given, linked to economic and regulatory factors, with the DoH saying it had been advised by the Pharmacy Guild of Australia that “dispensing prescription medicines can create extra work for the pharmacy and pharmacies may be increasing prices for non-PBS brands of codeine-containing medicines to compensate for this additional work”.
On the 4 May, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission advised Health Minister Greg Hunt that there was “no evidence of coordinated price increases or misleading representations” by pharmacies, and said it would not investigate the matter further.
The Department of Health response also said it expected that pharmacies would be purchasing lower volumes of rescheduled medicines due the requirement for a prescription, therefore potentially affecting discounts from the manufacturer/wholesaler, and hence the medicine price.
“There are a range of additional fees that a pharmacy can charge for dispensing a script
under the PBS, including a dispensing fee, safety net recording fee, and any other
applicable fees such as a brand premium,” it added.
“Pharmacies are able to charge any amount up to the patient co-payment plus a premium.”