House debates

Wednesday, 28 September 2022

Bills

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

12:35 pm

Alison Byrnes (Cunningham, Australian Labor Party) Share this | Hansard source

With the National Health Amendment (General Co-Payment) Bill 2022, Labor is taking action to ease the cost-of-living pressures Australian families are facing after nine years of coalition government neglect. Labor is taking action to make medicines cheaper so Australians do not have to choose between the health care they need and providing for their families. The relief that this bill brings will be welcomed by the people in the electorate of Cunningham, and I thank the Minister for Health and Aged Care, the Hon. Mark Butler, for his work on this.

Last night I met with Trent Twomey, the National President of the Pharmacy Guild of Australia, and they are also really excited about this legislation. We spoke about how much there is still to do but how happy we are that this government is moving in the right direction—and so quickly as well. Our government is introducing this bill because we believe in access to universal health care, to health care that can be relied upon when Australians need it and to health care that is world-class and the envy of other nations.

The Labor government story is very different from the record of those opposite. After nine years of neglect from the former government, many Australians are having to choose between vital medicines and putting food on the table, and many are forgoing those medicines due to the cost. The Albanese Labor government is making medicines cheaper for approximately 19 million Australians. We are reducing the PBS general co-payment from $42.50 to just $30. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, in 2019-20 more than 900,000 Australian families delayed getting or did not get a script filled due to cost. This is a terrible statistic, but it is easy to forget the individuals that make up this number. They are people in our families, in our communities, in our workplaces, in our sporting groups and in our religious organisations. They are people who, because of financial pressures, are not able to buy their medicines. Australians deserve much better than this.

This bill acts on our government's commitment to reducing the maximum amount Australians pay for their PBS medicines. New medicines are regularly added to the PBS. This enables more patients to access cheaper medicines for their conditions. Some of the medicines available through the PBS can cost thousands of dollars per script. These medicines are supplied to patients at a reduced cost, with the government paying the rest. The cost for the patient is capped and referred to as a co-payment. Since the year 2000, the PBS co-payment has doubled, placing increasing pressure on Australians buying medicines. Currently, the maximum co-payment a general patient will pay is $42.50; for a concession cardholder, this is $6.80. This bill ensures that, from 1 January 2023, the general patient co-payment will be reduced to $30. This is a reduction of $12.50 for PBS general patient co-payments. Around 19 million Australians will be eligible for savings under this bill, and these general patients together could save $190 million each year. A person filling one script per month could save around $150 per year; someone filling two scripts a month could save around $300 per year.

The Albanese Labor government has also committed that no patient will be worse off following the co-payment reduction. Pharmacies will still be able to offer optional discounts to general patients where the cost of the PBS medicine lies between the new $30 price and the previous price of $42.50. The amount paid by the patient will still count towards the PBS safety net.

For my electorate of Cunningham this bill will have a huge impact. The 2021 census data shows why this bill will be so important to my constituents. Cunningham's rates of long-term health conditions are higher than both the New South Wales and national averages. These are conditions such as arthritis, cancer, mental health conditions, stroke, among others. Lowering the co-payment will help people in my electorate afford the medicines they need to manage and treat their conditions. Many constituents have shared with me their concerns about the cost of living and the difficult decisions they are increasingly being forced to make. Through the reduction in the co-payment on PBS medicines to $30, some of these cost-of-living measures will be addressed.

I would also like to take this opportunity to thank our local pharmacies, who do great work in helping our community every day. Like other frontline workers, they have worked so hard over the last three years. Over the past year they have administered COVID vaccines in addition to the many flu shots that they administer in the lead-up to winter. In preparation for World Pharmacists Day recently I had the great opportunity to meet Ahmed Sawan, pharmacist and owner of the Priceline Pharmacy at Woonona, with his son and my good friend Aboudi Sawan. Ahmed invited Ryan Park, the local state member for Keira, and me to meet with David North, the president of the Illawarra Pharmacists Association, and Amanda Fairjones, the state manager of the Pharmaceutical Society of Australia. Ahmed and David told Ryan and me about the work they do in our community and their goal to provide even more services to local residents.

This bill supports broader health reform that has occurred since the Albanese Labor government was elected. From 1 October 2022, Australians will also pay less at the pharmacy for PBS medicines, thanks to the government's price disclosure policy. This will make medicine cheaper for thousands of families, representing out-of-pocket savings of over $130 million for Australian patients and almost $930 million for taxpayers. Australians with conditions such as migraines, arthritis, breast cancer, stomach ulcers and bipolar disorder will have access to cheaper medicines because of this. From 1 October the government is also expanding the number of medicines under the PBS. These include newly included medicines used to treat a number of conditions, including some types of cancer and growth hormone deficiency in children.

Labor's suite of health reforms also extends to the creation of our Medicare urgent care clinics. These clinics will help to take pressure off our hospitals by providing medical care for Australian families who have an urgent but not life-threatening medical issue. The Medicare urgent care clinics will provide bulk billed appropriate care for many Australians while helping to minimise unnecessary emergency department presentations. These are just some of the actions that Labor is taking to improve access to health care and to protect Medicare. Labor built Medicare and we will always protect it. Our community deserves universal, prompt and world-class health care. The Liberal government spent a decade attacking Medicare. They tried to introduce a compulsory $7 co-payment, freezing rebates and cutting $2.6 million from Medicare. They abolished psychiatric telehealth items and removed regional bulk billing incentives. Under the previous government, average out-of-pocket costs to see a GP increased by 33 per cent. But Australians know they can trust a Labor government to look after their health system. It is a history of action that we are immensely proud of. The Labor government is making medicines cheaper. We are taking action on cost-of-living pressures. We are repairing nine years of neglect, and we have hit the ground running.

I have chosen to speak on this bill today because access to universal health care is something I care deeply about. Many of my constituents face daily financial struggles. They don't need the added pressure of being unable to afford the medical care that they or their families may need. But we on this side of the chamber know that there are two major factors that can turn aspiration into reality for working families: access to health care and access to education. The Labor government knows that Australians are resilient and hard-working. They just need to be given the chance to succeed—a leg up when times get tough. By increasing the availability and affordability of health care for Australians, as this bill does, the Labor government has proven once again to the people of Australia that we are on their side and we will always fight for better health care for Australians and their families. I commend the bill to the House.

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