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Australian Journal of Pharmacy : March 2005
news news Government proposal threatens PBS once again T HE Federal Government is set to place further pressure on community pharmacies in the name of increased competition if it goes ahead with a plan to remove price controls on patient co-pay- ments for prescription medicines. Every pharmacist approached by the AJP held grave concerns about the fallout if the policy was implemented, saying it would inevitably increase hoarding, increase prescription shopping, reduce the quality use of medicines, reduce the likelihood of continuity of care in com- munity pharmacy and, ultimately, increase the cost to the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS). One senior pharmacist who asked not to be named warned that the policy would also place significant pressure on rural communities. He said that mail order pharmacies would attract more rural cus- tomers, placing immense pressure on the viability of rural community pharmacies and all the extra services they deliver to their communities. According to senior industry figures, Health Minister Tony Abbott underlined his intentions to float the copayment at a high level meeting that included health Stop press H industry representatives. This confirmed fears raised following statements made by the Minister when interviewed on A Cur- rent Affair that aired on 3 February and fea- tured interviews with Damian Gantz from Chemist Warehouse and Minister Abbott (see box for transcript). The issue was one of the major talking points at the recent NSW Guild Zone Leaders Meeting in Sydney. Some 60 to 70 pharmacists were urged to lobby their Federal Members of Parliament about their concerns for such a policy and told that campaign materials to support their efforts would be distributed to all Guild members. When asked to comment, national pres- ident of the Pharmacy Guild of Australia, John Bronger, would not confirm that he knew of the Minister’s intentions for such a policy, but he did say that by encourag- ing discounting, the Government would place more pressure on the PBS. ‘Why would a group of pharmacies want to provide discounted prescriptions? Simply to increase their volume,’ Mr Bronger said. ‘If the Government wants to float the fee, they need to understand that [the fee] can go up and down. GP fees have never gone down since they were floated. ‘Let’s remember that medicines are not normal items of commerce and should not be subjected to policies that might encourage an increase in volume dispens- ing, which leads to hoarding and an inevitable increase in unused medicines,’ he said. According to Simon Appel, manager of the Return of Unwanted Medicines (RUM), agreed that such a scheme could encourage hoarding, but he was more concerned with the loss of consistency in the price of prescriptions. ‘Once you lose the consistency of the copayment and become open to dis- counting, it just confuses people and reduces the pharmacist’s intention to manage the patient’s medications. People should not be shopping around for their medications based on price—they should be looking around on service and sup- port,’ he said. The AJP was told that this was not the first time the policy had been mooted, with previous proposals rejected by the Government of the day on the basis of its impact on the PBS. EALTH Minister Tony Abbott has responded to questions by the AJPabout the proposal to encourage pharmacists to discount patient copayments, as well as other issues of the day. His answers, including an admission that he had instructed departmental officials to begin negotiations for the Fourth Community Pharmacy agree- ment ‘immediately’, appear in the editorial, p146. A competition affair T ¦ HE following is a transcript of the final part of a story broadcast on A Current Affair about the added financial burden on patients fol- lowing the increase in PBS copayments from 1 January this year. Damian Gantz from Chemist Warehouse:‘If I could charge my cus- tomers a more competitive price, or as competitive as humanly possi- ble, hopefully consumers will take their optimal therapy.’ Customer of Chemist Warehouse:‘It’s not fair that the Government won’t let Chemist Warehouse discount prescriptions.’ Reporter:‘It’s something the Government says it wants to consider’. Tony Abbott:‘I think it’s quite important that we have competition between pharmacies, while at the same time we preserve the system of community pharmacy which has served Australia well’. 140 ? THE AUSTRALIAN JOURNAL OF PHARMACY VOL.86 MARCH 2005