Date: 12 October 2022
The passage of legislation through the House of Representatives to reduce the maximum PBS co-payment from the start of next year was an historic moment, and a very emotional one for so many of the people who were waiting for this cost of living relief to be confirmed.
The reduction will see the co-payment drop to $30 from $42.50, starting on 1 January 2023 – a significant reduction that will make a big difference to a great many people, and overall will save medicine consumers a collective $200 million a year. On an individual level, it equates to a 30 per cent saving on the cost of each prescription. Put another way, it means you will save $150 a year for one monthly script, or $300-$450 a year for two to three scripts a month.
For a number of years, the Guild has been working hard to have the co-payment reduced because of the impact medicine prices were having across the country – particularly for vulnerable patients. It was rewarding to see history in the making as this was the first time in the 75-year history of the PBS that there has been a downwards price movement.
It was also rewarding to see our political process at work, and working. Listening to the debate in parliament I was moved to hear speakers from all the parties and independents agree on how important the reduction was and how it would benefit so many people across the country. It was politics at its best.
The campaign was initiated by the Guild in response to anecdotal evidence from our members that an increasing number of patients were struggling to pay for their medicines. Patients were coming in with a handful of scripts and then asking the pharmacist which ones they could miss out on that month as they couldn’t afford to have all their scripts dispensed. Pharmacists were, heartbreakingly, seeing mothers having to choose which child got their medicine.
Prescription medicines are not discretionary items of commerce. They are prescribed by doctors based on a patient’s needs and so it was profoundly disturbing for those pharmacists confronted with patients facing this dilemma. For patients, something had to be done.
At the Guild we decided that a coordinated effort was needed and so we launched our Affordable Medicines Now campaign, part of which was surveying patients, conducting research and collating evidence to support our argument. Some of what we found was staggering, including the age range of people affected: Affordability was significantly worse for people aged under 65 than for people aged 65 and above, and more than 20 per cent of people aged from 18 to 64 described prescription medication as unaffordable.
We also found there are 19 million people who currently have to pay up to $42.50 for a PBS prescription. The affordability pressure hits home when you consider that more than 900,000 Australians delayed or did not fill their prescriptions due to cost in 2019-20.
The alarming evidence spurred us on and as our campaign gained pace, we were joined by a coalition of health bodies including the Australian Patients Association, Chronic Pain Australia and Musculoskeletal Australia to advocate on behalf of their patients.
Our endeavours came to a head during the Federal election campaign when cost-of-living pressures were high on everyone’s mind and all sides of politics recognised that making medicines more affordable was one way of addressing these pressures while also making a genuine difference to people’s health outcomes. It would also help to reduce medication non-adherence which was an issue either through taking less of the medicine than prescribed, or not having the prescription filled at all, an underlying cause of preventable hospital admissions and readmissions.
I want to thank everyone involved for their huge effort in getting this reduction across the line: community pharmacists across the country, politicians from all sides, patient groups, Guild personnel and patients. We have achieved a lot but we also know this is just the first step. There is more to be done and we have demonstrated that we can do it.
It also shows there is always a place for good policy which is also sound politics.
Contact: The Guild