Senator Nick Xenophon has taken aim at the controversial $1 optional PBS copayment discount introduced by the Coalition Government, saying this is a “flawed” policy which burdens community pharmacy.
In a letter to the Pharmacy Guild expressing the Nick Xenophon Team’s [NXT] support for community pharmacy, Senator Xenophon also slammed any potential deregulation of the community pharmacy sector, including any recommendations in that direction which could arise from the Remuneration and Regulation Review.
He says the NXT does not support the $1 copay discount.
“This is a flawed piece of health policy which misleads pensioners and concession cardholders into thinking they are receiving cheaper medicine when all they are doing is having their access to the Safety Net delayed, at the expense of their local pharmacy,” he writes.
“Far from being a consumer benefit, it actually slows access to the Safety Net for the neediest of patients and delivers to them no net financial benefit over the course of the year.
“But it gets worse. It also breaches the universality of the subsidised medicine system because not all patients have access to the discount, depending on where they live.
“In rural and regional Australia, where the Minister for Health has acknowledged many pharmacies will not be able to afford to pass on the discount, patients will pay more than their follow Australians living in cities.
“This is wrong and must be reversed.
“The NXT is also concerned the $1 discount will make it more difficult for pharmacies to provide an optimal standard of care for their communities.”
Senator Xenophon also says the NXT opposes the proposed increases in the PBS copayment (80 cents for concessions and $5 for general patients).
These measures were introduced in the 2014 Budget but have languished since, not passed by the Senate. Health Minister Sussan Ley recently said they were still on the table.
“Such sharp increases in medicine costs, particularly for the elderly and chronically ill would be counter-productive and unfair,” Senator Xenophon wrote to the Guild.
“The NXT will urge any incoming government to abandon these damaging and unnecessary co-payment increases.”
He says that the NXT “strongly opposes” any potential deregulation of community pharmacy.
“It will inevitably lead to a situation where Coles and Woolworths, who already control more than 80% of the dry grocery market in Australia, will dominate the sector.
“This could well lead to a reduction in service, quality and diversity in the sector.
“Do we really want our medications and associated health advice being doled out like discount bread and milk? The answer, clearly, must be no.
“Furthermore, accelerated price disclosure changes have slashed an average of $90,000 in revenue, per pharmacy, last year alone. Many pharmacists cannot bear these cuts without reducing their hours, laying off staff and going further into debt.
“Deregulation would tip this sector over the edge, with regional Australia bearing the brunt. The significant taxpayer investment in the network of community pharmacies meets the health needs of the community and represents good value for consumers and taxpayers.”
Nick Xenophon has in the past expressed dismay about Government savings measures targeting pharmacy.
In a March 2015 speech he said that pharmacies were “at tipping point” as a result of the way price disclosure was handled by the former Labor Government.
He says that he and his team will only support recommendations of the King Review – which will not be released until after the election – that “recognise and enhance the benefits of the community pharmacy model”.
“We will not support the imposition of Harper-style deregulation that would tear apart a system that currently works extremely well,” Senator Xenophon wrote.
“Owners of community pharmacies need stability and certainty as they run their businesses, employ staff and pay rent.
“Any changes proposed by the remuneration and regulation review must improve the system rather than destructively disrupting it.
“It is also vital that funding directed to pharmacy trial programs and professional pharmacy services in the Sixth Agreement are rolled out and applied to the community pharmacy sector in a timely fashion to ensure patients get the intended benefit.”