PM Albanese’s 60-day medicine policy a winner with consumers

ID:

A screenshot of the Examiner newspaper from Thursday June 22, 2023. There is an article written by Ben Seeder, titled “PM Albanese’s 60-day medicine policy a winner with consumers”.

There is a picture of Fay Gervasoni, looking at the camera and holding medications in her hands. The caption reads “Fay Gervasoni of Launceston welcomes the Albanese federal government’s new pharmacy 60-day dispensing rules. Picture by Paul Scambler.”

The text of the article follows.

According to a leading consumer advocate, vulnerable Tasmanians will benefit enormously from new rules allowing pharmacists to dispense double the number of common medications at no additional cost.

Bruce Levett, chief executive officer of Health Consumers Tasmania, said the federal decision allowing dispensing of 60 days’ medications for the price of a single prescription would save non-pensioner Tasmanians taking treatments for chronic conditions an average of $180 per year per medicine.

“We think it’s a really good decision, we think it will save people who use regular medicines, and these are typically people in low socio-economic groups,” he said.

The new rules will start to take effect on September 1 and will cover treatments for conditions such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, asthma, epilepsy, high cholesterol and hypertension.

Mr Levett said the change would most benefit those low-income Tasmanians with chronic conditions struggling with the cost of living.

She said she pays between $7 and $25 per month for each of her medicines, and while the scheme will save her some money, others would likely benefit more.

“I think it’s a wonderful thing, but it’s not a huge amount for me; a lot of people are on more medications than I am,” she said.

She also wondered whether she would take up the full chance to get two months’ medicines since she visits her pharmacy weekly.

“I’m very happy to do what I always do and go in every week; I’ve been going to them for twenty years; I’ve watched them grow up.

“Sometimes I go in just to say hello!”

In contrast, Philip Tobin, a business owner based in the Central Highlands, said he would take full advantage of the new rules.

Mr Tobin said he takes six different medications for his asthma, diabetes and autoimmune conditions, and being able to take home two months’ supply from one script meant a significant cost saving.

Until recently, he was paying as much as $400 per month for his medications, he said.

But he said the other advantage of the new rules was they would cut down on the need to travel the hour to his pharmacist in Deloraine.

“Living in a remote area in the Central Highlands and at this time of year, I’ve got to put snow chains on the car to get to Deloraine,” he said.

Sometimes the weather and snow are heavy enough that he can’t get out, and having extra supplies are crucial, he said.

“It’s very helpful that I can get a couple or three lots of these [medications] and have them here so that when you do run out, and you can’t get out to Deloraine because of the weather, you can have your medications and not be compromised.”

Mr Levett said his only criticism of the federal government’s new 60-day dispensing rules change was that it did not go far enough.

“The government should have gone further, and they should have followed the New Zealand example and gone for 90 days or three months dispensing,” Mr Levett said.

He also took aim at the Pharmacy Guild for its campaign opposing the change.

Mr Levett said the Guild’s fears were overblown.

“We are really disappointed that the Pharmacy Guild is using vulnerable people to fight a political battle,” he said.

“There are a lot of people in the community who are now making decisions on whether they heat their house, do they buy food, or do they buy medications.

“And I think, unfortunately, the Pharmacy Guild don’t understand or won’t acknowledge that.”

He said pharmacists needed to find a new business model that works if their present one is broken.

“If their business model doesn’t work, if it is dependent on vulnerable people going into their pharmacy every month, then we [Health Consumers Tasmania] will sit down with them to find another approach.”

Pharmacy Guild of Australia Tasmania branch president Helen O’Byrne has said the switch to 60-day dispensing will hurt rural and remote pharmacists.

The Guild on Monday published a report by economist Henry Ergas that projected as many as 20,000 pharmacy jobs will be lost over four years across Australia as a result of the changes.

The report claims pharmacies are paid about $13 for every script they dispense, and allowing 60 days’ worth of medicine to be dispensed instead of 30 on the same prescription could effectively halve their incomes.