Why is the medication so many of us use on the chopping block?

We knew cuts were coming and now the health minister has revealed that 17 over-the-counter drugs that most of us use will no longer be available on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme. Sussan Ley insists the withdrawal of these drugs will save money, but is she thinking of the people who actually use them or her budget’s bottom line?

Among the drugs to be removed from the PBS are paracetamol, aspirin and drugs for heartburn and skin allergies.

In a statement, Ms Ley said the measure would particularly benefit concessional patients who were sometimes paying two-to-three times the retail price of common medicines when they bought them through a prescription rather than over-the-counter.

“There’s no doubting that many of these over-the-counter drugs such as paracetamol and aspirin can be a simple and easy treatment for various conditions,” Ms Ley said.

“These inconsistencies in the system have seen patients and taxpayers unnecessarily paying higher prices to fill prescriptions for medicines that can often be purchased cheaper straight off the shelf.

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“For example, we currently have concession card holders right now paying $6.10 for a $2 pack of paracetamol if they buy it using a PBS-subsidised prescription, which also attracts a taxpayer subsidy on top.”

Ms Ley said while these 17 medicines make up only 15 per cent of over-the-counter medicines subsidised under the PBS, between them they generate 8.7 million scripts and cost the government $87 million – nearly 90 per cent of the annual spend on OTC medicines.

As a result of the cuts, Ms Ley says the money can then be used to invest in listing new drugs that could treat cancer and other life-threatening diseases.

The PBS is a complex system and “inefficiencies” are the cause of the situation in which we end up paying $6.10 for a packet of Panadol when paracetamol can be bought from supermarkets for as little as $2.

To get the Panadol and other over-the-counter drugs free under the PBS, you need to reach the safety net.

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“Most patients don’t reach the safety net so there’s an excessive spend on over-the-counter medicines which doesn’t need to happen,” says Ms Ley.


What do you think of the decision to remove these drugs from the PBS? How will it affect you?