Wednesday, 28 September 2022
National Health Amendment (General Co-payment) Bill 2022; Second Reading
Over the last two days, the House of Representatives has debated legislation to introduce the biggest cut to the cost of medicines for Australian households in the 75-year history of the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme, a cut for general patients of almost 30 per cent of the maximum cost of their scripts, from $42.50 to just $30. It was a Labor government that first introduced the legislation to make life-saving drugs more affordable, and the Albanese government remains committed to ensuring that the PBS continues to enable Australians' access to affordable medicines.
After almost a decade of Liberal neglect, the costs of living are soaring, with many Australians cutting back on essentials to make ends meet. They're being forced to choose between filling prescriptions for potentially life-saving medicines and providing for their families. The National Health Amendment (General Co-payment) Bill 2022 amends the National Health Act 1953 to reduce the maximum general patient co-payment under the PBS from the current maximum of $42.50 to $30. From 1 January 2023, around 3.6 million Australians with current prescriptions over $30 will benefit through this Albanese government initiative. People filling a prescription for one medication per month will save around $150 a year, while a family filling prescriptions for two or three medications per month could save $300 to $450 per year. The bill will ease the cost-of-living pressures that Australian households are experiencing around the country.
This bill will also have a profound benefit for public health. There's no doubt that all Australians place great value on the medicines and essential health care the PBS provides. All Australians deserve access to universal, prompt and world-class medical care. As the member for Robertson reminded us through his contribution to this debate, the essence of this bill can be captured in three words: equity, equality and access. The Australian Bureau of Statistics has told us that as many as 900,000 Australians every single year are choosing to go without medicines that their doctors have prescribed for their health—medicines that their doctors have said are important for the maintenance of their good health. Pharmacist after pharmacist has told stories of their customers coming into their pharmacy, putting a number of scripts on the counter and asking for advice about which ones they can go without because they can't afford to fill all of the scripts that the doctor has said is important to their health.
Members contributing to this debate have highlighted the positive reactions they have received from their local communities in support of this bill and have recounted many community interactions which highlight the direct and significant impact the passage of this bill will have on individuals and families right across Australia. We heard from my good colleague the member for Dobell right here that, as a pharmacist, she has seen firsthand patients who have walked into her pharmacy after a medical appointment, handed her a bunch of prescriptions for their family and asked which medications they could skip or avoid. She spoke yesterday about a mother who asked her if her two children could share a bottle of antibiotic mixture because she couldn't afford to purchase two.
We heard from the member for Corangamite, who related the experience of a local pharmacist who's working every day with people in the community who can't afford their prescription medicines. Some of these people come with chronic illness and are forgoing their own health needs in order to pay for necessary medications for their children or to pay for food or power bills. We heard from the member for Robertson, who saw patients present at his emergency department because they were unable to afford any of their prescription medicines.
We know this policy will make a difference because Australians are telling us it will. This bill will ensure patients receive the essential medical care needed to prevent serious illness and stay healthy. It will also allow Australians to shop around to get the best price for their medicines. The bill will ensure that no Australian will be worse off under this change by including provisions to allow pharmacies to continue offering discounts at current levels to their customers.
Right now, Australians are paying the price for a decade of missed opportunities and drift. Through this bill, we will make a real difference to household budgets for millions of families but also to people's health. Just like with Medicare, it was Labor that built the PBS, and Labor will always protect it so that all Australians can access affordable medicines when they need them. I thank all members for their contributions to the debate on this bill.
Question agreed to.
Bill read a second time.
Message from the Governor-General recommending appropriation announced.