Make medication affordable: Chemist Warehouse pushes for free prescriptions

Sep 05, 2019
Chemist Warehouse has promised to provide some free prescriptions if laws are relaxed in Australia. Source: Getty

A leading chemist has promised to provide free prescriptions to Aussies if the government takes action and changes its current rules to stop them from cutting prices significantly.

Currently in Australia pharmacies are only able to discount co-payments by $1 per script, but Chemist Warehouse is hoping the Land Down Under will follow in its neighbour New Zealand’s lead and make changes so medication becomes more affordable for Aussies. Speaking about the current guidelines on 3AW this week, the company’s Chief Operating Officer Mario Tascone said they would be more than happy to provide free prescriptions to customers if the laws are relaxed.

He called on the Pharmacy Guild of Australia to re-think its community pharmacy agreement and allow customers to pay nothing at the counter, by instead using government subsidies and dispensing fees as payment. Tascone said this is what’s already done in New Zealand and something that Australia should highly consider.

“There are a number of restricted rules, we want them loosened so that we can operate freely and give more value to Australia with affordable medicine,” he said on 3AW. “Relocation laws stifle competition. If we could free up the pharmacy system, free prescriptions are definitely an option we’d like to put on the table.”

Asked if it would be sustainable and something they could actually do, Tascone said: “We certainly could, there are a large percentage of prescriptions that we are allowed to heavily discount… it could certainly be a possibility.” However, the Pharmacy Guild of Australia has rejected the calls and claimed there is no need to alter the rules currently in place.

Also appearing on 3AW this week, president of the Victorian branch, Anthony Tassone, said Chemist Warehouse is acting like it has a super power and simply wanting the rules changed to better themselves in the market. “Here we have a pharmacy group behaving like a big corporate, they don’t like the rules as they are because they don’t suit their agenda or growth pattern,” he explained. “Why should we be unraveling a system that has produced equitable access to Australians?”

Meanwhile, Tassone said the chemist’s idea seemed a bit “gimicky” and could just create more difficulty for Australians looking for the best option for their medication. “I think we’d have to look at the fine print… it sounds a bit gimicky… it wasn’t all medicines, it was some medicines, it creates more confusion,” he added.

He went on: “Why do we want to unravel or undermine a PBS system that is providing equitable access in the same set of deals for Australians wherever they are? We support more affordable medicines for Australians, we are custodians of the PBS, we want more life saving medicines listed on the PBS.”

Meanwhile, Aussies have weighed in the topic with varying views on whether or not the rules should be changed. While many applauded Chemist Warehouse for its comments, others claimed the pharmacy was trying to boot their competition out for good.

“When you have ongoing illness and disorders requiring prescription meds, you appreciate every dollar you have,” one person wrote on Facebook. “All medical bills are high and the medication bills are too. Thank you Chemist Warehouse for being competitive and caring in the market place.”

A second added: “I take 14 medications a day. Every year I stress over affording them all until the safety net kicks in, something that usually takes about seven months. Why is the business of someone else more important than my family and my health? Sorry, but good for Chemist Warehouse. If they can do it cheaper or for free all power to them.”

While another disagreed commenting: “Trying to have the monopoly. Pushing out the small pharmacist.” And another echoed their words writing: “Their store growth rate has levelled off the last year. Of course they’re looking for new ways to destroy the industry.”

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Do you think it is a good idea to change the rules and allow pharmacies such as Chemist Warehouse to offer free prescription? Or do you believe it is a bad idea?

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