The Australian government has announced another initiative to reduce the cost and inconvenience of obtaining prescription medication for millions of Australians.
As part of the 2021-22 Federal Budget, the government has allocated $1.1 billion to fund the price reductions, which will be implemented through the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS).
Back in 2018, the Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee recommended select PBS medicines for chronic conditions to be dispensed in bigger quantities, and now the Australian government has implemented the change to help those in need.
Starting on May 1, 2023, over 300 prescription medications will be available at half price in the hopes of making it easier and cheaper for those with chronic conditions who spend a lot on medication.
Medicines for conditions such as heart disease, cholesterol, Crohn’s disease, and hypertension will be included in the new policy, which is expected to deliver budget savings by reducing patients’ visits to the GP to obtain the common medicines they need.
The move has been widely welcomed by healthcare professionals and patient groups, who have long advocated for greater access to affordable prescription medications.
Australian Health Minister Mark Butler has highlighted the importance of the new policy, stating that it will address the issue of Australians delaying or going without necessary medication due to the cost.
He emphasised that nearly a million Australians are forced to delay or go without a medicine recommended by their doctor every year, making the policy a crucial measure in improving access to affordable medication.
“Cheaper medicines is good for the patient’s health and the hip pocket. I have said a number of times that the Bureau of Statistics says that as many as almost one million Australians go without medicine or defer getting a script filled because of cost,” Butler said.
“Dropping the price of medicines is better for patients’ compliance with their medicines that their doctor has prescribed as important for their health.”
Patients will also be able to buy a two-month supply of subsidised medicines on a single prescription, instead of two separate ones. Those who receive medications prescribed for 60 days rather than 30 days could save up to $180 a year, with additional savings for other qualifying medications.
“Accepting the advice of the … committee for two months supply of medicine, which is what the government is doing, will halve that number of visits, so patients who are very stable in their condition and have been on these medicines for some time will be able to get a supply of their medicines with only one visit to the GP per year instead of two and only six visits to the pharmacist instead of 12,” he said.
“This will obviously involve much less inconvenience for patients, which will reduce pressure which we know is substantial on general practice and, importantly, it will halve the cost of those medicines for 6 million patients.”
However, Butler has reassured that doctors still have the option to write a prescription for a one-month supply for patients, rather than two, to ensure their safety and best interest.
The fiscal impact of the new measure will be further explained in the upcoming budget, to be handed down by Treasurer Jim Chalmers on May 9.
News of the government’s newest policy comes months after it was announced that more seniors were made eligible for Commonwealth Seniors Health Card as a way to help ease the financial burden associated with the rising cost of living.
The changes went into effect on Friday, November 4, 2022, with the income threshold for access to the card increased.
In the first four months since the Labor Government introduced the increased income thresholds, an additional 10,893 older Australians have been granted the card who would not have met eligibility criteria previously.
Minister for Social Services Amanda Rishworth says the Labor Government is upholding its commitment to reduce the cost of living pressures and assist older Australians.
“We know that seniors value their concession cards and importantly, this change isn’t temporary. It’s permanent and will provide older Australians with ongoing benefits in the years ahead,” Rishworth says.