Proposed reforms on pharmacy dispensing by the Australian government have sparked concerns about the unintended consequences for older Australians.
Anthony Tisoni, Vice President of the Pharmacy Guild, has raised alarm bells over the potential financial burden that the 60-day medication dispensing policy may place on this demographic.
While the policy aims to offer cost-saving benefits, there are growing worries that it could lead to increased expenses for pharmacy services specifically utilised by older Australians.
Speaking to SkyNews, Tisoni says “there is a way that we can deliver cheaper medicines for patients without wreaking havoc on the sustainability of the community pharmacy network.”
While pharmacies and pharmacists support 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.”
Tisoni stressed that it is possible to ensure lower prices on medicines without jeopardising the sustainability of community pharmacies.
Currently, community pharmacies provide essential services such as home deliveries and dose administration aid, ensuring that older individuals have convenient access to their medications.
However, if the proposed policy is implemented, these services may no longer be financially viable for pharmacies to offer without additional charges.
“We want the Pharmacy Guild and pharmacies across Australia to sit down with the federal government and work out a new funding agreement going forward that should this measure come into place, that there is a new funding agreement for community pharmacies that won’t lead to job losses and pharmacy closures and an end to free services that pharmacies currently provide patients and they’ve come to rely on,” he said.
Health Minister, Mark Butler, had previously argued that every dollar saved by the government would be reinvested in pharmacy services to enhance the role of pharmacists in Australian healthcare.
But Tisoni countered this, arguing that the government’s assertion is misleading. He explained that the policy simply shifts the cost burden from patients to the federal government, rather than genuinely reinvesting savings.
“This notion of every dollar saved by the government being reinvested in community pharmacies, it’s a furphy. It’s not true,” Tisoni argued.
“It’s basically shifting who is paying for a service from the pharmacy. It’s shifting it from the patient to the federal government. So things like the opioid dependence treatment program, provision of methadone and buprenorphine, and the administration of vaccines under the national immunisation program are currently being paid for by patients through their community pharmacy.
“Under this policy measure, that will be picked up by the federal government, which is a good thing for patients. But what the federal government is actually paying is less than what the pharmacy currently receives from patients.
“So it’s really a cut on a cut. It’s not reinvestment.
“We are made to feel like our vital organs are being ripped out, and they’re giving us a facelift and want us to thank them for it. This is not a good policy.”
Starting on September 1, 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.
Patients will 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.