Monday, 14 July 2014
Questions without Notice
Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme
My question is to the Minister for Health. Minister, can you inform the House on how a co-payment has helped to make our Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme sustainable, and how the government's changes announced in the budget will continue to keep the PBS sustainable?
I thank the member for his question, and for his ongoing interest in making sure that our country has a sustainable health system not just for today, but for the decades ahead. One of the great aspects of the health system in this country is the PBS—the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme. The way in which it operates, as people know, is that, when they get a script from a doctor and then go to see a pharmacist, they pay a contribution. For many Australians, they pay just over $6 for each and every medicine, regardless of their assets, regardless of their income. If they have a healthcare card and are eligible for a concessional arrangement, for every script from the first script, unlike bulk-billing, they get that script filled by the pharmacist and, in some cases, those medicines on an individual basis can cost thousands, if not tens of thousands, of dollars, which is ultimately paid for by the taxpayer. So we have to have a system which is sustainable in relation to our medicines. We have taken the judgement that to make our MBS—the system where we pay our doctors—sustainable, we also need to apply that same principle and adopt a co-payment so that we can have a sustainable Medicare into the future.
The interesting thing is that the Labor Party have supported the co-payment in relation to the PBS since the 1960s. We know that they supported it in relation to those who were general patients, without a concession, back in the 1960s. We know it was the Labor Party that in 1986 increased the co-payment for general patients by 100 per cent—from $5 to $10. They argued at the time that the co-payment was necessary to keep the PBS sustainable so that, as new drugs came on line, we could afford to list those drugs. They said, yes, even people on low incomes can afford a relatively modest amount by way of a co-payment. We have applied, as I say, the same principle for when people go to see a general practitioner. The difference is that, when people go to see a doctor, we are saying that, if they cannot afford the $7, we will still bulk-bill but not in as many cases as bulk-billing applies at the moment. We know that, at the moment, 83 per cent of Australians—or 83 per cent of those services—are bulk-billed when they go to see a doctor, but it is not sustainable. Bulk-billing is about providing support to those who cannot afford to provide for themselves. Bulk-billing is not about doctors trying to take market share from the doctor on the diagonal corner; it is about a safety net.
Ms Butler interjecting—
The Labor Party, when they had principles, supported a co-payment for the PBS and they even introduced the co-contribution for those on concession cards. The Labor Party, at some stage, are going to have to explain how it is they could afford to give everything for free and rack it up on the country's credit card. The opposition have no credibility when it comes to health or the economy.