House debates

Wednesday, 28 September 2022


National Health Amendment (General Co-payment) Bill 2022; Second Reading

11:01 am

Photo of Graham PerrettGraham Perrett (Moreton, Australian Labor Party) Share this | Hansard source

Australians will remember that we went to the last election with a commitment to cutting the cost of medications. The Labor Party gave a commitment that we would cut the cost of medications by reducing the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme co-payment from the current maximum of $42.50 per script to a maximum of $30 per script, a reduction of 29 per cent. Under our bill—an Albanese government bill—a person taking one medication a month could save $150 per year; those people taking two medications per month could save as much as $300 to $450 each year.

After nine years of neglect by coalition governments, the costs of living are soaring and many Australians are cutting back on essentials in order to make ends meet. This will be the first time in the PBS's 75-year history that the maximum cost of general scripts under the PBS will fall. Under the PBS, patients make a co-payment towards the cost of each PBS medicine, with the Commonwealth covering the remaining cost, which can vary from zero to thousands of dollars per prescription. This keeps otherwise expensive medicines affordable.

Just for some history: the very first attempt to legislate for a scheme to provide approved prescription medicines, such as antibiotics, free of charge to Australian residents was made by the Curtin Labor government back in 1944. So if you're an Australian resident and you hold a current Medicare card then you're eligible to receive benefits under the PBS. Ensuring access to cheaper medicines is part of our belief that all Australians deserve access to universal, prompt and world-class medical care. No-one should have to choose between filling prescriptions for potentially life-saving medicines and providing for their families.

These changes to the PBS will take effect from 1 January next year and will save Australians more than $190 million in out-of-pocket costs. The existing safety-net provisions will continue, and all scripts currently counting towards the patient safety net will continue to do so.

The maximum cost to general patients for PBS medications has doubled—doubled!—since 2000. Sadly, the former coalition governments—the Abbott, Turnbull, Morrison progression—did nothing to fix this problem. Not only is this measure good for household budgets. This government knows that the health of Australians is so important because if don't have your health then everything else becomes secondary. The Albanese government understand this, and that is why we want to do what we can to make sure Australians have access to affordable medicines by listing every drug recommended by the independent experts on the PBS. We know that people are being forced to choose between filling prescriptions for potentially life-saving medicines and providing food, shelter, warmth et cetera for their families.

We've heard from the Australian Bureau of Statistics that, because of the high cost of medications, nearly one million Australians delayed or didn't fill their prescriptions for medication in the 2019-20 year. Think about that for a moment. Nearly one million Australians—they could be your grandparents, your neighbours, your family, our children. One million Australians who were prescribed medicines by qualified doctors because they were sick were then not able to take that same medication, because they could not afford to do so. We know what not taking your medicine means. Not taking your medicine means it can take longer for you to recover—if you recover at all. It can mean more time out of the workplace, serious complications, hospitalisation and all the costs that come with that. This means that, in the long term, not taking medication can be unhealthy for an individual and unhealthy for our economy. More people ending up in hospital can lead to higher healthcare costs.

Last Sunday was World Pharmacists Day, in recognition of the vital role that community pharmacies play in caring for the health of their patients. Pharmacists see a lot in their day-to-day workplace. They do much more than provide advice on medicines and their side effects. They are one of the centres of local communities. They provide health advice. They provide health care and make a difference in their local communities. Their connection with community is great because they are the most accessible of all health professionals and have been at the front line of providing health services during these incredibly challenging and stressful times associated with COVID.

In the communities I represent and in communities throughout Australia, people rely heavily on our pharmacists to help us get through some of the health difficulties. Pharmacies have consistently spoken of their experiences of having to deal with patients that come to them with multiple scripts and seek advice about which ones they really need to fill—an economic question for a health professional. Why is this? It is because some people can't afford to fill them all. Patients often decide to fill a script that might give them immediate relief—for example, pain medication—but not fill a script that's actually very important for their longer term health. Across my electorate of Moreton, most local pharmacists have welcomed the action by the Albanese government to cut the out-of-pocket costs their patients pay for medicines on the PBS.

Kuraby is at the southern end of my electorate, next to Treasurer Chalmers's electorate of Ranking. It's got a high percentage of people from overseas, and in many family homes English is their fifth language. Sohail Ashgar is the pharmacist at Home Pharmacy in Kuraby, and he's been there for quite some time. He's the only pharmacist in Kuraby and he knows just about everyone. He has commended the move by the Albanese Labor government to cut the maximum co-payment for drugs on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme from $42.50 down to $30. Sohail says, 'This move is the best course of action to make sure that the people are not missing out on essential medication because of the expense. He said he has seen a recent uptick, especially amongst elderly patients struggling with the cost of their medications. The tragic reality, says Sohail, is that he and his staff have seen too many customers being forced to choose which essential medication to go without. Sohail told of cases where patients have been cutting tablets in half in order to make them last longer. Sohail said that it has become quite regular for patients to go weeks without picking up their medication at all—an economic decision. Sohail made it clear that these sorts of things have become too common and can leave vulnerable patients at high risk of further illness, which, as we know, will then put a larger economic strain on the healthcare system, which could be avoided. Sohail cares and said, 'Our country is better off when people are as healthy as possible.' Thank you for your service to your community, Sohail.

There is the suburb of Acacia Ridge, which is a part of my electorate that has a significant proportion of residents with long-term health issues. It's a battler suburb that my grandfather moved into in the forties. The staff at Chemist Warehouse Acacia Ridge have noticed in recent months an increase in people not being able to afford crucial medication. The chemists said that, when people are in a position where they just can't afford to put those few extra dollars towards their medication, it is really difficult for the patients' wellbeing. However, this change by the Albanese government will make huge difference for many people in the Acacia Ridge community and will be a huge direct relief for many regular patients that visit the chemist.

Fairfield Gardens Chemist said that these changes will have a positive impact on the Fairfield community. While they haven't seen the same struggle to afford medication as I've mentioned in Kuraby and Acacia Ridge, the chemist knows very well that chemists right across the country are seeing devastating scenes of Australians, especially our elderly, being unable to purchase essential medication. The Fairfield chemist made it clear that cheaper medicine is always a benefit to society.

Then there's Salisbury, a suburb next to my home suburb of Moorooka. It's a suburb undergoing a huge transformation. Younger families are moving into the area. And, like elsewhere, housing prices are going up. So, while the cost of medication has always been an issue, this latest medicines announcement is great for the Salisbury locals. Lowering the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme co-payment threshold means that the elderly regulars at the chemist will save money on medication and will have more to spend on regular, day-to-day items.

And finally to the suburb of Yeronga—a suburb hammered by the floods in February this year. I know the member for Sydney came to that part of my electorate and saw the devastation firsthand.


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