Pharmacy Guild’s concerns fail to stop Labor’s 60-day medication dispensing policy

Aug 11, 2023
From September 1 patients will be able to receive double their medication for the cost of a single prescription. Source: Getty

Labor’s proposed health policy designed to cut down the cost of prescriptions is set to move ahead despite the Pharmacy Guild’s lobbying against the policy.

Scheduled to start on September 1, Labor’s 60-day dispensing scheme is designed to allow people to purchase a two-month supply worth of medication under a single prescription.

The plan will cover more than 300 common medicines listed on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme and will roll out in three stages over a year.

According to the government, this change will mean that approximately 6 million Australians can save on medicine costs, spend less on doctor’s appointments, and reduce travel to healthcare facilities.

In the first stage, patients with stable ongoing conditions like cardiovascular disease, gout, Crohn’s disease, asthma, heart failure, high cholesterol, hypertension, osteoporosis, and ulcerative colitis will be eligible for the 60-day prescription policy.

However, on Wednesday, August 9, Opposition health spokeswoman Anne Ruston took action in the Senate to remove the policy using a disallowance motion, claiming there are concerns that the policy would mean smaller pharmacies might close or reduce staff to manage the expenses.

Ruston also urged the government to consult with pharmacists before implementing the policy.

“Today we sought to ensure that this policy could be implemented without perverse consequences like job losses or restricted access to health care services, particularly for regional Australians and vulnerable Australians,” she said.

“The government still has three weeks until this policy comes into effect to pause and consult.

“Senator McKenzie and I have another motion with the clerk should the government continue to refuse to guarantee that no pharmacy will close, and no Australian will be worse off as a result of this measure.”

Pharmacists have been actively advocating against the transition away from the current 30-day limit, claiming that it will cause financial setbacks for their sector and potentially for older Australians.

In June, Vice President of the Pharmacy Guild Anthony Tisoni raised alarm bells over this matter saying, “there is a way that we can deliver cheaper medicines for patients without wreaking havoc on the sustainability of the community pharmacy network.”

Though he supports the idea of cheaper medicines for patients, Tisoni emphasised that it should not come at the expense of the entire health system and the viability of community pharmacies.

Community pharmacies are vital primary healthcare destinations in Australia, and their closure would have a significant impact on patient access to essential services.

“Things such as home deliveries, particularly for older and vulnerable Australians, you have pensioners who are going to reach their safety net anyway, even with 60-day dispensing, albeit later in the year,” he said.

“And they don’t financially benefit from the 60-day dispensing policy, but they may actually have to pay more for their services from the pharmacy, whether it’s home deliveries or whether it’s dose administration aid and Webster packing.

“So you have older, more vulnerable Australians paying more for their services and cross-subsidising the convenience for healthy, wealthy Australians.”

However, chief executive of the Consumer Health Forum Elizabeth Deveny has stressed that the 60-day dispensing policy would have a “significant” impact on the current cost of living pressures, especially for those who have to travel “hundreds of kilometres to pharmacies.”

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