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Australian Journal of Pharmacy : September 2006
capital hill capital hill from our Canberra correspondent A good…err, well…lamebrain policy W HOEVER sits up there manipu- lating the puppets in the pharma- ceutical industry has done an excellent job once again of splitting the once- unbreakable Medicines Partnership and relishing the calculated isolation of each of the players as the industry heads toward collective crisis. We have pharmacy—the most formi- dable lobby machine in this country— faced with an unworkable set of puerile proposals which, on the one hand, will attack pharmacy discounting from direct- dealing with generics manufacturers and wholesalers by imposing further price cuts. And will, according to the Pharmacy Guild, destroy 1,000 or more pharmacies over the next 18 months to two years. On the other hand, we have a govern- ment treading on eggshells, and anxious not to rattle the cage of its potential elec- toral bête noire, saying that, err, well, if we mitigate the level of discounting, we’ll, err, reimburse you for it. Err, well! The irony is obvious and the feeble attempt to buy back pharmacy loy- alty is palpable. This Government is being advised by senior lamebrain bureaucrats who, having recognised that a level of dis- counting is necessary to promote free mar- ket operation and competition between generic brands in the Fourth Community Pharmacy Agreement, actually approved that level of discounting within the frame- work of that agreement! But now the lamebrains proclaim there’s a lot of fat still to be harvested in the level of discounting signed off on in order to make it look good to the punters who want cheaper medicines. The same lamebrains who are anxious to buy punter loyalty next year need phar- macy loyalty to get the deal on the road or else there are a lot of marginal mem- bers out there from both sides of the game nervously reading the correspondence from their local pharmacists, who are just as nervously wondering if they’re going to be there next year too. So the lamebrains sit up at night and suddenly figure out that, by sleight of hand, what they’ll pinch in the way of dis- counts to pharmacies, will be ‘reim- bursed’ (sic). Yes, and err, well, back to those very same pharmacies which were, according to the ideologues, gouging the taxpayers by discounting in a manner approved and enshrined in the Fourth Community Pharmacy Agreement. It’s remarkable what an election can do to bugger up intelligent policy making Under the ridiculous proposals being wheeled forward—thankfully without the embarrassment of having the poor Minis- ter for Health present to listen to the rub- bish—the pharmacists who get robbed by the Government as a result of it approv- ing their existing discounts get paid off out of the same public purse that the Gov- ernment alleged was being pillaged in the first place. It’s remarkable what an election can do to bugger up intelligent policy making. Meanwhile, we have the two industry associations having a crack at doing a bit of spruiking for their opposing cases. Medicines Australia, at the national Press Club last month, following an address by Tony Abbott on reforms to the PBS, vol- unteered an exceptional blow for democ- racy and its case for higher prices by utter- ing a loud ‘No Comment’ to the questions of the assembled media on the PBS issue. It repeated the ‘No Comment’ on two subsequent occasions. Maybe it was a tough time because its members were get- ting a towelling from MA’s Code Adjudi- 12 ? THE AUSTRALIAN JOURNAL OF PHARMACY VOL.87 SEPTEMBER 2006 cation Committee over various pre- scriber-related educational expenses in the odd five-star restaurant. Also stricken by the same palsy affect- ing the operation of the sub-lingual mus- culature, the mercurial Generic Medi- cines Industry Association hid under the usual rock when confronted by media ask- ing what its position was on discounting. The bureaucrats are winning the war! And, let this jaded scribe tell you, the Petticoat Club is alive and thriving in the Health Department. Helpfully advising a Minister whose sensitive attitudes to female health issues and associated plumbing matters have won him the odd box around the ears is the venerable Departmental head, Jane Halton. And, of course, her company of policy oligarchs, now pumped with the addition of two new deputy secretaries—whom Ms Halton told the Australian Financial Review in an interview last month were former front- end flag bearers in the Office for Women. Ms Halton’s no doubt up to something. She allowed the Weekend Australian Finan- cial Review to indulge in a bit of personal apple polishing based on her seriously serious career in the bureaucracy. Curi- ously this was published around the same time as Mr Howard announced that she, along with a number of other Depart- mental heads, was in for a salary hike which pushed the take-home to around $370,000 a year. These things don’t just happen by acci- dent. There’s a reason—as there is for the practised strategy of isolating the players in the health mix ahead of attempted reform. It’s all to do with timing and tactics. Maybe the sisterhood is preparing for a new minister? Don’t tell us she’s going to be wearing a skirt! Err, well… The opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of the AJP’s management or staff s