You’re being ripped off $241 for no reason
Medicines are costing Australians more than they should thanks to pharmacists who are refusing to support plans for longer prescriptions.
Those on long-term medications for chronic conditions like high cholesterol, osteoporosis, migraines, glaucoma and even breast cancer sufferers on immunosuppressants are forced to go to the chemist every month to pick up their medication.
But the Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee (PBAC), an expert body that makes recommendations to the Federal Government, believes it's not necessary for some medications to be dispensed in such low amounts and has recommended the doubling of prescription lengths for 143 medicines.
This would allow patients to save both time and money as they will be able to pick up two month's supply each time they go to the chemist, instead of just one month's.
The measure saves people money because instead of paying the co-payment fee of either $40.30 or $6.50 (if the Medicare Safety Net has been reached) for their medication every month, they would only need to pay every two months.
For someone who is spending $40.30 each month for their medication, their costs would halve from $483.60 to $241.80 a year.
Taxpayers and the government would also save the $7.39 dispensing fee that chemists charge every time a prescription is filled.
News.com.au has looked into the issue as part of its series Rip-off Buster, which provides readers with practical cost-of-living advice and hacks on how to help get a better deal - all with the goal of helping you to become financially fit.
The change to medicines is being backed by the Australian Medical Association (AMA), the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) and the Consumers Health Forum.
"There's no reason why the government shouldn't do this," RACGP president Harry Nespolon told news.com.au.
"It's one less dispensing fee and is convenient for patients."
Unfortunately the powerful Pharmacy Guild of Australia is against the idea and the proposal was reportedly dropped from this year's Federal Budget after the organisation made its views known.
In a letter to its 3000 members, president George Tambassis reportedly said the change would have had a "devastating impact" on the viability of community pharmacies.
"Profitability of many pharmacies would have been effectively halved, sending them to the wall, with mass loss of jobs and displacement of vital patient services," Mr Tambassis wrote.
"We believe we have succeeded in dissuading the Government from proceeding with this destructive, unwarranted idea, but we cannot rest until we are confident it is off the table - now and forever."
MONEY SAVER OR SAFETY ISSUE?
In a statement to news.com.au, a spokesman for the Guild said it acknowledged the "government is trying to save money" but the dual-listing and doubling of quantities of medicines had been shown to increase the risk of inappropriate medication use, as well as medicine wastage.
"The impact of the government's proposal will leave patients worse off and reduce the quality of services in our pharmacies," the spokesman said.
"More than 250,000 Australians are hospitalised every year, with another 400,000 presenting to EDs for medication errors, inappropriate use, misadventure or drug interactions. It is not a good move to reduce the face-to-face contact patients have with their pharmacist."
But Dr Nespolon disagreed and said there was no safety issue with allowing patients to pick up two month's supply of medication instead of one month's.
"If you are on a blood pressure tablet for the rest of your life, why can't you pop in and get more than one month's supply at a time?" he said.
Dr Nespolon said other countries like New Zealand already allowed patients to pick up three month's supply of some of the medications. The change would not apply to all medications but only to 143 products the PBAC agreed were safe to prescribe in larger amounts.
Generally doctors give patients a prescription with repeats to last them for six months and Dr Nespolon said they will see a patient twice a year to make sure the medication is still working for them. In contrast, pharmacies wanted patients to come in 12 times so they get the walk-through trade for their businesses.
"Doctors see patients twice a year but pharmacists force people to do it 12 times a year because they want the foot traffic," he said. "It doesn't sound like a very good reason to me for not allowing patients to pick up more medication."
FOCUS SHOULD BE ON PATIENTS
Senator Stirling Griff, of the Centre Alliance party, told news.com.au the focus should be on the patients and their needs rather than the pharmacies.
"The system is broken when it appears to be all about how much money a pharmacy can charge," he said.
"The PBAC are the people who should be making the decision and this should not be changed because the Guild holds sway over the government. You should have medical people make the decision on this."
Health Minister Greg Hunt has previously told News Corp Australia in March that the government was not planning to go ahead with the changes and would instead consult with consumers, the medical community and the pharmacy sector about the changes.
When asked about whether the changes would be supported, a spokesman for Mr Hunt said: "All relevant options to improve the affordability of medicines for patients will be the subject of extensive consultations during deliberations for the next Community Pharmacy Agreement.
"The Government has committed to leading early and inclusive deliberations for the next community pharmacy agreement."
Senator Griff supported consultation but said it did not seem to be about identifying what was appropriate for the patient.
"It will be about whether pharmacists can live with one less dispensing payment," he said.
"The Pharmacy Guild is a major political donor and holds an enormous about of sway over the government, and that's dangerous."
Consumers Health Forum spokesman Mark Metherell told news.com.au the changes on-balance seemed to be a good move.
"If it's saving consumers and saving taxpayers, if it's more convenient and medically and clinically reasonable, if there's no reason why someone should have to go back every month, then it's a bit hard to argue against," he said.