What Reform To The Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme Means For You

Mar 01, 2024
Image source: Getty

Australia is known as “the lucky country” - a phrase adopted from the title of a book written by Donald Horne in 1964. Perversely, Horne’s chosen title was meant as an indictment on a country he considered unambitious and lacking in innovation. Yet it is perceived as meaning that Australians are lucky to live in a land with freedom, wealth and good health.

Today, as many people struggle with the cost of living, some might say our luck has run out. But in comparison to many countries, we are indeed still lucky to enjoy a safe, free and comprehensive public health system, albeit one that could use improvement.

We enjoy Medicare benefits providing a range of government subsidised health services, and we can thank the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS), introduced more than 75 years ago, for safe and effective medicines available at a subsidised cost to Medicare cardholders. 

But right now, public support is needed to effect much-needed and well overdue change to the PBS by way of review and reform, as currently advocated for by Medicines Australia.

How the PBS affects every Australian 

Currently the PBS, in partnership with Medicare, the medicines industry, and the Australian government, provides Medicare cardholders with access to more than 5,200 medicines at a subsidised price, and more than 800,000 prescriptions are filled daily in Australia.

The PBS plays an  important role in providing the Australian community with access to  safe and effective medications at an affordable price. But before we can fill our PBS scripts at our local chemist, a lengthy evaluation process has occurred.

Newly developed medicines have undergone a thorough evaluation process by the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA), which determines the safety and efficacy of a medicine. After this point, a separate process occurs to determine whether that product should be listed on the PBS.

It can take over a year - after the TGA has approved a medicine - for that product to be subsidised on the PBS, meaning Australians must wait for access to the newest treatments available. To improve access, reform must happen.

The PBS is overdue for review

As important as the PBS is to every Australian, surprisingly the 75-year-old scheme has operated without review for over 30 years. Supported by Pfizer and other pharmaceutical companies, the Medicines Australia campaign for PBS reform, the Medicines Australia campaign for PBS reform engages with key stakeholders to engender public support for a stronger PBS that will deliver faster access to cutting-edge medicines for all Australians.

Medicines Australia’s proposed reform to the Health Technology Assessment (HTA) system suggests that patients must be at the centre of the process, new evaluation and funding pathways are needed, and the time taken to access new medicines must be improved to align with comparable countries.

How will PBS reform benefit you?

If there is one thing we are sure of in our senior years, it is that time is  precious, limited, and not to be wasted.

As a nation we wait three to four times longer to access new medicines than some countries, and other new medicines aren’t made available to us at all.

And that is why older Australians need the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme to keep pace with international advancements in medical science, so that every Australian can benefit from new, effective, innovative medicines sooner.

A stronger PBS will mean faster access to prescription medicines when you need them, not in over a year’s time.  

How you can play a part in PBS reform

Becoming involved in the campaign for a Stronger PBS will help Australia become more patient-centric, giving all Australians access to potentially life-saving, new and improved medicines in a timeframe consistent with countries similar to us.

You may know someone who is reliant on the PBS for affordable medicines, but who also knows there are better medicines available overseas. Unfortunately, those medicines are often out of the reach of ordinary Australians both geographically and financially. Public support for PBS reform can help all Australians to receive better healthcare, contributing to a better quality of life.

So while this “lucky country” has the opportunity to prove Donald Horne wrong and allow faster access to new and leading medicines, we should do it.

Support PBS Reform for Faster Access to Life-saving Medicines!

Join the #StrongerPBS campaign to reform the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme for quicker access to cutting-edge medicines. Help make healthcare more patient-centric and ensure all Australians benefit from improved access to medications sooner. Learn how you can play a part in shaping a stronger PBS for a healthier future.

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