‘Unfair’ PhARIA system set to be scrapped

rural Australia

Govt estimates about 800 more pharmacies will be able to access rural support under new classification rules set to roll out over the next year

In announcing the 7CPA last week, Health Minister Greg Hunt signalled there will be “greater support for regional, rural and remote pharmacies” through adoption of the Modified Monash Model (MMM) for rural classification.

While the transition from the Pharmacy Accessibility Remoteness Index (PhARIA) to MMM is not explicitly written into the 7CPA, the Guild told AJP the change should be occurring sometime in first 12 months of the Agreement, which begins on 1 July 2020.

Currently the Rural Pharmacy Maintenance Allowance (RPMA) is paid to rural pharmacies based on the remoteness of the pharmacy according to the PhARIA, and the level of PBS and RPBS prescriptions claimed.

The transition to MMM means hundreds of existing pharmacies will get additional financial support as rural pharmacies under the classification system.

In his comment in the House of Representatives on Monday 15 June, Minister Hunt estimated 800 pharmacies will be able to access this support.

Under the MMM, remoteness and population size is measured on a scale of Modified Monash (MM) category MM 1 (major city) to MM 7 (very remote).

According to the 7CPA, there will also be a 10% increase in the RPMA, with the opportunity for further increases in subsequent years.

Under the current system, RPMA payments range from $5,468 to $45,930 per annum.

Indicative funding for rural support programs, including the RPMA and Rural Workforce Programs, is estimated at $24.6 million for the first financial year of the 7CPA, up from the $21.2 million allocated for the first year of the 6CPA.

The change to MMM is “something that those pharmacies have been crying out for, for years,” said Pharmacy Guild national president George Tambassis.

“It’s been described to me as an unfair system at the moment [under PhARIA], we’re basically just going to make it a fairer system,” he said.

“It comes down to remuneration of course, because a lot of pharmacies are missing out on what the allowance offers them.

“So once we have a look at that and redefine it, there will be a lot of bonuses for those pharmacies that have been missing out, and then they too can actually provide more services to their patients.”

Michael Troy, a pharmacy owner in South Grafton, NSW, told AJP that he is happy with the recognition that comes through transition to the MMM.

“South Grafton has switched from PhARIA Level 1 to MM Level 3, which is good in just the recognition that Grafton and South Grafton is more rural than the middle of Sydney, Brisbane and Melbourne, which certainly doesn’t reflect where we are,” he said.

The next step is finding out what support is provided to pharmacies classified MM 3 (Large rural towns).

“What hasn’t been released yet is, what is that going to enable the MM Level 3 pharmacies to access? Is this going to be the old PhARIA 2, or MM 4 and above,” said Mr Troy.

“PhARIA 2 and above allowed access for allowance for travel for CPD events, uni student placement funding for transport and accommodation costs, funding to take on an intern pharmacist – it certainly didn’t cover the wage but was an enticement to have an intern on,” he said.

“At the moment, I’m just waiting with bated breath with what MM 3 categorisation allows me to access because those finer details have not been released as yet. But even the recognition that I’m now not PhARIA 1 or MM 1, yes I’m in a rural or regional area, is a small victory. We’ll just have to wait and see.”

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