A missed opportunity

Date: 13 April 2022

By Suzanne Greenwood, Executive Director

Amid all the noise about how this year’s Budget will help to address the cost-of-living concerns most Australians have, one thing that really stands out is how a golden opportunity to help millions of Australians improve their access to medicines by making them more affordable has been squandered.

More than one in six voters say they or their families have been unable to purchase medicines due to cost. This is a two-point jump since January when the price of medicines on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) went up again.

Indeed, the Government’s response to growing community concerns over medicines’ affordability was to lower the safety net threshold from $1,542.10 to $1,457.10 for general patients and from $326.40 to $244.80 for concessional patients. This may help some patients towards the end of the year but does little for patients facing week to week cost pressures.

The real disappointment has been the Government’s failure to act on the Guild’s proposal to address the cost of medicines in a sensible, pragmatic and cost-neutral way.

Our solution to making medicines more affordable is to reduce the general patient PBS co-payment from the current $42.50.

If enacted, this policy reform would have driven universality of access to the PBS and enhanced medication adherence, immediately reducing spending pressures on the health system and the economy.

UTS modelling in 2019 estimated that medicine non-adherence cost the health system $10.4 billion for just four common health conditions. The study found that the cost of medicines is a significant contributor to non-compliance.

The policy would have benefited patients prescribed drugs for diabetes, stroke prevention, cardiovascular disease, respiratory conditions, epilepsy, hormonal contraception, skin conditions, anaphylaxis, viral conditions, Parkinson’s disease, macular degeneration, and many others.

While this reform was not taken up in the Budget, the Guild is committed to achieving it for the benefit of patients and will continue our strong campaign to help more patients afford their medicines.

Quite frankly we won’t give up and our resolve now is stronger than ever to see this reform enacted. All Australians deserve to be able to get the medicines they and their families need.

Another disappointment in the Budget was the continued refusal of the Government to seriously address the opioid epidemic which we are experiencing in Australia. Community pharmacists across the country can relate first-hand that this problem is growing steadily. If we don’t act now it may soon reach the out-of-control proportions witnessed in some parts of the United States.

The Guild has been working on this problem and we proposed a solution to provide access and affordability of opioid dependency treatments by funding a National Opioid Dependence Treatment Program.

Our proposal reflects our determination to reduce the health, social and economic costs of substance misuse in Australia, recognising the significant public benefits of the treatment programs and their capacity to assist individuals to be productive members of society.

Consistent with the National Drug Strategy 2017-2026, the Guild, through the community pharmacy network, is committed to reducing drug-related harm to individuals and communities, which includes Opioid Dependence Treatment (ODT) programs in community pharmacy.

Our proposed National ODT program covers the prescribing and dispensing of prescriptions for ODT medicines as part of the PBS under Section 100 of the National Health Act 1953; in-pharmacy dose management and provision of takeaway ODT oral doses; and in-pharmacy administration of injectable ODT medicines.

This is an important reform that is desperately needed and we will continue advocating strongly for these measures to be implemented.

Of course, the Budget had some well-thought out measures to help Australians and also small businesses like community pharmacies.

A positive health initiative was the allocation of more than $345 million to embed pharmacy services within residential aged care facilities to improve medication management for the elderly. How staffing needs to meet this demand will be satisfied however remains a challenge.

Another positive in the Budget is that the needs of women have been specifically addressed with a $2.1 billion package focusing on women’s safety, economic security and health and wellbeing.

One aspect of this funding is a $40.4 million investment for women’s leadership. It is well documented that women in leadership positions make a real difference. Their talents and skills benefit our entire community and our economy, and having women in visible leadership positions also inspires the next generation of young girls to step up and lead our country into the future.

On the business front, the $1 billion for a new Technology Investment Boost for small businesses with annual turnover less than $50 million is welcome news.

Businesses will also benefit from a further $2.8 billion to support Australian apprenticeships, while changes to migration and visa settings will include specific visa validity extensions, removal of work restrictions and visa application charge waivers or refunds. 
Small businesses will also have access to a new 20 per cent bonus deduction for eligible external training courses for upskilling employees.

With a Federal election around the corner, time will tell if the Australian public approves of the 2022-23 Budget announcements.

Contact: The Guild
Phone: 13GUILD

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Page last updated on: 13 April 2022