Wednesday, 28 September 2022
National Health Amendment (General Co-payment) Bill 2022; Second Reading
I rise to speak to this bill, the National Health Amendment (General Co-payment) Bill 2022. While this is a government bill, like most good public policy in this place, it follows the former coalition government's lead in a commitment made in April of this year to reduce the PBS general patient charge by $10. This was the single most significant change to the cost of and access to medications since the PBS was introduced more than 70 years ago. The coalition has a strong record of providing Australians with timely, affordable access to effective medicines, cancer treatments and services. In this respect, I acknowledge the unequalled work of my predecessor, Greg Hunt, who, as health minister between 2017 and 2022, was the best friend of those who rely on Australia's Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme.
During the time of the previous government, more than 2,900 new or amended listings on the PBS were made at an overall investment of around $16½ billion. By listing these medicines on the PBS, the coalition ensured Australians can have access to affordable, life-saving medications that would otherwise cost thousands or hundreds of thousands of dollars without any subsidy. This took medicines which were out of the reach of almost every Australian, costing hundreds and thousands of dollars, and made them accessible for less than $6.80 with a concession card. Some of the final listings of the previous government under the then Minister for Health, my predecessor in the great electorate of Flinders, Greg Hunt, were life-altering medications. Zolgensma is for the treatment of spinal muscular atrophy in children less than nine months old. This treatment serves approximately 20 patients each year, but before subsidy it would have cost $2.5 million per treatment. Now, it's less than $6.80 with a concession card. Then there was Trodelvy, for the treatment of triple negative breast cancer, which now saves an average of 580 patients a year $80,000 per course of treatment.
In my first speech in this place on Monday, I discussed the loss of my mothercraft nurse, Molly, to melanoma in 2015, a cancer I myself had developed but survived a few years earlier. In just that time, since 2015 to now, the changes made to the PBS by the former government mean melanoma is now a manageable form of cancer for many, if not most. In March 2020, the coalition government expanded the PBS listing of Opdivo for advanced melanoma. Opdivo is a breakthrough immunotherapy drug which helps the body's own immune system to find, attack and destroy cancer cells. Without that PBS expansion, around 1,500 patients a year would have had to pay more than $100,000 per course. I know better than most that these listings change lives.
The coalition remains absolutely committed to ensuring Australians have access to affordable medicines when they need them. Of course, while this copying of coalition policy is most welcome, we on this side do know what Labor's record has been on the PBS in the past. In the 2011 budget, the then government deferred the listing of products on the PBS 'until fiscal circumstances permit'. For those who question this, I can help you with your homework: it can be found in the 2011-12 budget papers, section 2, departmental outcomes, under part 2, 'access to pharmaceutical services'. In layman's terms, the Labor government stopped listing medicines. This included medicines for endometriosis and IVF, schizophrenia, prostate conditions, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and asthma. In addition, in 2011, Labor's then Minister for Health and Ageing, Nicola Roxon, put out a media release which stated: 'The government has also considered a number of other medicines, such as medicines for conditions where existing treatments are already available on the PBS, but has decided to defer listing of these medicines at the current time. These medicines will be reconsidered for listing when circumstances permit.'
In announcing this legislation, the Albanese government highlighted the reduction as a cost-of-living relief measure. However, it does not take effect until next year. While the opposition supports reducing the cost of medicines, we note that it does not kick in until January and that this is the only cost-of-living relief measure the Albanese government has announced and implemented so far. Australians need help now. The government must outline what actions they are taking to alleviate the significant cost-of-living pressures families are experiencing across Australia.
We support Labor's announcement to reduce the maximum general co-payment for medicines on the PBS, noting its copycat nature, made after our own election commitment to reduce the co-payment back to 2008 levels. Given Labor's record of failing to list medicines on the PBS, we will be watching them carefully when it comes to this extremely important part of our healthcare system. The coalition will continue to hold Labor to account for its promises to the Australian people and advocate to make medicines cheaper for Australians.