Wednesday, 11 September 2019
National Health Amendment (Pharmaceutical Benefits) Bill 2019; Second Reading
It's a great pleasure to rise in the chamber today to support the government's National Health Amendment (Pharmaceutical Benefits) Bill 2019. Affordable, accessible health care: that's the commitment we made to Australia and to Australians, and that's the commitment we're keeping with this bill. Last election we went to the people of Australia with a very clear plan—certainty and stability. We outlined as part of the plan a number of pillars, and the Australian people liked what they saw: lower taxes, secure borders, getting on with building infrastructure to get you home to your families sooner and safer, and a stable economy that funds essential services—and that's a key component which can sometimes be overlooked. But the reality is: a stable economy is not an end in itself. It has allowed us, and will allow the Morrison government going forward, to fund the essential services that are part of our plan to strengthen our world-class health system and guarantee the essential systems that Australians rely on and that make their lives better. Because the LNP can manage money responsibly, we can afford to do this for Australians.
Part of our plan is to make life-changing medicines more affordable, and this bill today supports the sustainability and operation of the important Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme. The PBS has been providing medicines to Australians for over 60 years. As the son of two pharmacists, I know firsthand the difference that quality, cost-effective medicines provide to children, families and seniors. Throughout all stages of life, no doubt most of us or our family members will require at some time—knock on wood—access to medicines for illnesses that will have a profound effect on our quality of life. And that access to medicines will be via local community pharmacies, particularly for an ageing population.
As a son of pharmacists, as I said, my mum and dad own a pharmacy across the road from a retirement village. I found out firsthand and came face to face with the important work that the more than 200 pharmacists in the Ryan electorate do for the community. They are a safety net and they make a big difference to people's lives. Community pharmacists don't just dispense medicines; they help their customers in their local community deal with addiction and with mental health, they pick up conflicts in medicines and they help older Australians manage complicated cocktails of medication.
In some cases, without the PBS, medicines that many Australians rely on would cost tens of thousands of dollars per year. They would simply be out of reach for most, if not all, Australians. The Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme, however, means that concession cardholders pay a maximum of $6.50 per script and non-concession patients pay a maximum of $40.30. In fact, 91 per cent of PBS scripts are given to concession cardholders, who pay just $6.50. Since coming to government, the Morrison government has listed over 2,100 new or amended medicines on the PBS, or an average of one per day. That's an investment of over $10.6 billion in life-saving drugs that are helping to improve the lives of everyday Australians. These medicines help people suffering from epilepsy, severe asthma, heart disease and cancer. That's one new or amended life-changing medicine every single day, making an impact on tens of thousands of Australians' lives.
To give you an idea of the importance of some of these drugs and their impacts, I will refer to some of our most recent listings. Tagrisso was recently listed for lung cancer. It was previously costing patients $88,000 per year. Venclexta, a drug used to treat leukaemia, was recently listed, but prior to this, patients would pay $165,000 per course of treatment. Ibrance was recently listed as well. It is a drug to help Australian women battling breast cancer and previously had a cost of $55,000 per year. Those are just three examples. Imagine the impact that over 2,100 medicines listed under this government have been having on the lives of ordinary Australians.
This government doesn't believe that financial circumstances should impact access to treatment. Over 90 per cent of the PBS scripts are dispensed to concession card holders, including pensioners and low-income earners. I know that Minister Hunt understands this personally. He is well acquainted with the details of many of these drugs, and I know the sustainability of the PBS system is an important reason he has brought this bill to the House. He has personally spoken with many of the families who are impacted by the drugs this government is listing. He has heard the stories of these families—of young children, wives, daughters, husbands and sons—who have a better quality of life because of the drugs listed on the PBS.
The minister has personally taken the time to come to the Ryan electorate to sit with community pharmacists; as I said, there are over 200 of them in the Ryan electorate. He sat with some of these community pharmacists and talked about their businesses, because, at the end of the day, these are small local businesses and they face challenges—issues of cash flow, supply, the ability to compete with others and their desire to take a leading role in the health care of their community. An example is the fact that pharmacies have done so much to vaccinate our community from the flu. There were over one million vaccinations last season alone from community pharmacies.
There are 5,400 pharmacies across Australia that together dispense 740,000 prescriptions a day or 270 million scripts a year. But some of them will fail, and when they do this bill is so important to provide continuity of service and, importantly, continuity of supply for PBS drugs. Australians who rely on these medicines need to have the comfort of a continued supply, and this brings me to this amendment bill. This amendment bill includes measures that will allow PBS medicines to continue to be supplied in the unfortunate circumstance where an approved pharmacist faces bankruptcy. This is particularly important in small and regional towns, where there perhaps are only one or two pharmacies available. In this instance, under these new measures, Australians who rely on vital medicines can have the security that provisions can be put in place to ensure there is no stoppage or delay in the supply of their vital medications listed on the PBS.
You would think that supply of these vital medications on the PBS would have bipartisan support, so it's shocking to recall—