‘Uber Eats charges more to deliver a pizza.’

Credit: Franklin Heijnen/Wikimedia Commons.

Pharmacists express disappointment and frustration at the allocated fees and program restrictions for the new Home Medicines Service

The Home Medicines Service, a recently announced temporary program to fund pharmacist medicines delivery during the COVID-19, has drawn criticism from pharmacists and representative groups.

While the government announced $25 million to fund home medicines services which will enable patients to have their PBS prescriptions delivered to their home, payments have been set at $5.00 ex GST per delivery.

According to the rules published by the Pharmacy Programs Administrator, deliveries to individual patients cannot be made more than once per month.

Services must be claimed by the end of the following calendar month and claims submitted outside this time frame will not be paid and cannot be resubmitted. In addition, pharmacies will not be able to apply any additional patient charge for delivery if it is being claimed through the program.

Pharmacies who provide the service will be expected to keep extensive records including consent of the patient and how the delivery person complied with the current sanitary and isolation protocols.

The service is available to patients who are isolating themselves for confirmed COVID-19, suspected cases meeting national criteria following consultation, those aged over 70, those who identify as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander aged over 50, people with chronic health issues or are immunocompromised, and parents with new babies or people who are pregnant.

It is a good announcement – but it needs to be a great announcement. ~ Trent Twomey

Trent Twomey, Senior National Vice President at the Pharmacy Guild of Australia, told AJP that more is needed.

“First of all, it’s welcomed that the government has acknowledged that home delivery services are going to be essential in the next six months as we deal with COVID-19 and people are self-isolating,” he says.

“The message to consumers is clear: if you are unwell pick up the phone and call, help will come to you. Every local pharmacist if they possibly can will ensure they will home delivery if they have a patient that needs it. That’s the type of people we are.”

However Mr Twomey adds: “We have put on the record that funds are insufficient. Uber charges more to deliver a pizza, Dominos charges more, Australia Post charges more for a 24-hour turnaround in a capital city then we’re receiving for this initiative.

“So what this means is patients will have to be charged a fee on top of what the Commonwealth is pitching in. What we do need is a relook at this to ensure that there is no gap for receiving no home delivery. We welcome the announcement, it is a good announcement – but it needs to be a great announcement. They are aware of it and we are working them.”

There’s no doubt that we are disappointed with the funding that has been allocated and some of the restrictions around the service. ~ Chris Freeman

The PSA also expressed disappointment at the allocation of funding.

“We are hearing day in and day out the current challenges experienced by pharmacists, primarily in community pharmacy tackling the COVID-19 pandemic,” PSA national president Chris Freeman told AJP.

“This is early days, and I’m thankful to be in such a profession that takes its community’s health to heart. Pharmacists are doing their utmost to preserve continuity of medicines supply in tough times, with patients and their communities at their wits’ end about what to do.

“While we welcomed the announcement of the Home Medicines Service last week as a way of supporting pharmacists to preserve the health of their communities and their most vulnerable, there’s no doubt that we are disappointed with the funding that has been allocated and some of the restrictions around the service,” says Associate Professor Freeman.

“Pharmacists will need to make a business decision unfortunately about whether they do in fact deliver medicines to our nation’s most vulnerable people and I’m saddened by that – but our pharmacists are used to putting their patients’ health first.

“We will continue to make representations about this service and other supports that are needed for our members to preserve their health, their safety and the safety of our most vulnerable Australians.”

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Pharmacists have shared their frustration at the record-keeping requirements of the service.

Rural Pharmacy Network Australia has flagged that a ‘one-size-fits-all’ flat fee structure is not appropriate for rural pharmacies potentially having to cover vast distances to deliver to patients.

“Our suggestion was for a fee based on kilometres covered for pharmacies in PhARIA 3-6,” RPNA spokesperson Katie Stott told AJP.

Several pharmacists took to social media to express their frustrations at the program rules.

“It’s worse than nothing,” said one pharmacist, adding that pharmacists shouldn’t have to comply with “ridiculous” rules.

Another said: “That will be the hardest 5 bucks I’ve ever earned … A stupid level of bureaucracy. Have they considered some of our rural customers are perhaps 30-45min drive away? $5 a month – not adequate. One size fits all again.”

“It will take more labour costs to keep records and apply for $5 than it’s worth! Another example of bureaucracy in steroids … insulting frankly,” said a pharmacy owner.

See more information about the service here

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  1. Anne Todd

    Has Trent read the criteria –
    You must not charge the patient for the eligible delivery.
    you either claim the $5.00 for that patient/delivery or you charge privately and don’t claim the $5.00.

    While I agree its probably not enough and definitely insufficient in the rural areas it should be possible to coordinate delivery runs by day/by street/people. Morning run/afternoon run. Remember the people we will be delivering to are meant to be staying at home – not going to bowls or off to lunch somewhere.

    Do a search in your dispensing software top 100-200 dispensing customers export to excel – sort by street. set out a delivery plan. (excluding nursing home as per the guidelines)

  2. Michael Ortiz

    What is wrong with the Department of Health? Don’t the bureaucrats understand that sick patients don’t all live within 1 km of a pharmacy and that patients don’t know what medicines they will need for one month.

    One delivery a month with a $5,00 payment after completing all the documentation?

    The taxpayer can fund a $750 cash payment for concessional patients, but it can only afford $5.00 to deliver medicines to quarantined patients. This payment will barely cover the cost of the documentation.

    Australia post charges $8.95 to deliver a small parcel, while Coles and Woolworths charge $9.00 per delivery. Taxis charge a Flag Fall of $3.60 and $2.19/km with a Booking Fee of $2.50 and add another 10% if you use cabcharge. That is, a minimum of $9.00 for a delivery if sent by taxi.

    The Department is taking advantage of the Community Pharmacists’ professionalism and their desire to care for Covid 19 patients. The Department needs to reconsider the amount of the payment and the frequency of deliveries. Alternatively, the department can maintain their inadequate fee, however it should allow Pharmacists the option of charging the patient a premium on the Government fee.

  3. Andrew

    If I was the relevant person at Amazon I’d be using this article, comments, and quotes to argue that community pharmacies in Australia are both unwilling and unable to provide a service that “we” could do with zero cost to the government.

    • Michael Ortiz

      Hello Andrew, I really wonder whether you are seriously suggesting that Amazon would be able to deliver medicines around the whole country in the Covid19 panademic for $5 per package in a 24 hour delivery time frame. What we you talking about would be predatory pricing since they would be providing delivery service below real cost.

      • Andrew

        Hi Michael, short term no, medium term absolutely. I think by <2025 90% of the Aus population *could* be served that way.

        Loss-leading on an essential service for a huge demographic has made Uber worth US$34B.

      • Jarrod McMaugh

        It doesn’t really matter if they could do it or not…. it is the argument they would make.

        The real power Amazon will have when they enter the market is NOT savings to consumers, it’s savings to the government.

        If Amazon claims they can do what they do in a way that is comparable to what the CSO is supposed to achieve, for instance, and that they don’t want CSO funding just let us in to the sector, guess what will happen.

        Any argument that can be made that they can do a role quicker, cheaper, better (regardless of industry) will be made to get a foothold.

  4. Russell Smith

    FFS – DONT sign up for this scheme. (Unless by mistake someone has left off a zero by mistake, and forgotten to add the accounting and reporting fee and Im just seeing a rough and preliminary draft copy)
    Yet again someone well and truly well away from business reality has come up with yet another insulting scheme.
    If one was to take a relatively cheap car, you would still need cost it out at $1 per km., and to cover the driver’s costs ( vs having that person in one’s shop doing other useful work ) you would need cost them out at $1 per minute so any delivery you need do by the one would need be charged out at $1 per km plus $1 per minute. Of course, to all those who reckon on delivering a “free” service to the community – you value yourselves and your employees as not merely worthless but that you are prepared to be used up once again by those whose snouts are well and truly immersed in Canberra’s money troughs – that you are also paying for!

  5. Paul Sapardanis

    Having read all the responses to the article I to agree that the delivery fee maybe too little but where is this anger at our other well below cost services that we offer when there is no crisis. I am specifically thinking of NDSS. Diabetes Australia takes you all for mugs and until we on mass stop cutting each others throats in offering this service then we shouldn’t comment on the $5 payment being offered for this service

  6. Kristine Hall

    I would think it is important this measure is appropriately planned and compensated.

    The availability of a potential delivery service will help reduce panic buying by the public.

    Running out of medicines is of far greater concern than running out of toilet paper.

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