Wednesday, 24 October 2018
Questions without Notice
Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme
My question is to the Minister for Health. Will the minister update the House on how a stronger economy enables investment in new, life-changing medicines and improves the affordability of private health insurance? What would be the outcome for those relying on the supply of those medicines, recommended by experts, if different approaches were pursued?
I want to thank the member for Tangney, who is a great advocate for new medicines being listed on the PBS. I was honoured to join him recently in his electorate, at Fiona Stanley Hospital, where we announced support for Simponi, a medicine to assist those with the agonising condition of spinal arthritis. More than that, he knows that you can only continue to list medicines if there's a strong economy, if the budget is able to pay for it—if we aren't facing a crisis.
I am delighted to be able to inform the House that we have announced today that $80 million will be invested in the listing of two new medicines for chronic eye conditions. In particular, we are supporting 4½ thousand Australians with eye conditions for blocked veins in the retina and also for macular degeneration. These medicines—Ozurdex and Lucentis—would otherwise have cost in one case $5,000 and in the other case $7,000 a year and would have been beyond the reach of many elderly patients, of many patients with lower incomes. So this is literally giving the gift of better sight and potentially saving sight of patients because of those investments. I also know that we have maintained that throughout our time in government.
One of the claims made yesterday by the member for Ballarat was that we had in some way deferred the listing of a whooping cough medicine. I thought, 'That doesn't seem right, but I'm going to go and check the facts, because I'm not going to take what the member for Ballarat said on face value.' And do you know what? I was right to check the facts, because what the member for Ballarat said was that the PBAC recommended that the whooping cough vaccine for pregnant women be listed in July 2016. No, it didn't. It said that, provisionally, there had to then be a critical study by the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation—some of the most respected medical professionals in the country. And do you know what? They did that with their consideration in February and October 2017 and provided their final advice to the PBAC. The PBAC made their recommendation in February 2018. We announced our listing in May 2018 and we delivered it on 1 July 2018. The member for Ballarat misled the House. I'm not saying it was deliberate; I am saying it was incompetent.
Members on my right, I don't need your assistance. An identical point came up from the other side by the Leader of the House. I've made it very clear: unless the term 'deliberately mislead' is used, that doesn't apply. The minister is in order. The minister has the call for 10 seconds.
Is the minister aware that his own department provided a list yesterday of 83 medicines that have been recommended by the independent experts but not listed on the PBS? Is the minister aware that the list includes medicines that were recommended as far back as 2016? How can the minister stand by his previous answer on PBS listings when he has delayed access to some life-saving drugs for more than two years?
Let me make this absolutely clear. I did a little bit more research on their claims yesterday. I saw the list that the member for Ballarat put out—I think it was in August—of eight medicines that she claimed had been deferred. None of them had been deferred by government policy. And, do you know what? I looked at two things. I looked at major new listings that we've done recently and then I looked at what they did. These are the major new listings that we've done recently: breast cancer, Kisqali; SMA, Spinraza; cystic fibrosis, Kalydeco; cystic fibrosis, Orkambi—all done within 3½ months.
The Minister for Health will pause. If the member for Ballarat is rising on a point of order on direct relevance, the minister is only about 30 or 40 seconds into his answer. I'm listening carefully. She can raise the point of order now—it doesn't bother me—but that will be it.
Well, that was effective! In terms of the list last published by the member for Ballarat: very interestingly, she claims that a hepatitis C medicine was deferred. We did a little bit of research and we discovered that the company, even though they wanted the listing, didn't have the medicine available and requested that the government delay until they had the medicine, so that, once it was announced, they could supply immediately. That medicine is Mavyret for hepatitis C, the company is AbbVie and the advice was provided by the company. But the total period for the medicine she talked about was an average of eight months to listing. Then I compared that with Labor's deferred medicines—the seven medicines that they deliberately delayed by policy. An average of—
On direct relevance: I was asking about the information provided by the minister's own department overnight that shows that you have not listed 83 medicines, some from as far back as 2016.
Our policy is absolutely clear. We will list every medicine that the PBAC recommends. Their policy was absolutely clear: that they would defer the listing of medicines until such time as fiscal circumstances permitted. I also did a little bit more research, as to the Senate committee. And what did the Senate committee say about their policy at the time? 'It constitutes a major unnecessary and unwelcome change in government policy.' What did the Consumers Health Forum say?
Consumers do not want a situation in which drugs are listed on the PBS to win votes or boost opinion polls.
That was what they said about the Labor government and the Labor policy at the time. What did SANE Australia say about the Labor government and the Labor policy at the time?
The decision to defer the recommendation of the Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Council … to list medications jeopardises the integrity of the PBS process.
So now is the time for the member for Ballarat to apologise for incompetently misleading the House yesterday, in relation to hepatitis C and in relation, in particular, to whooping cough. Caught out—caught red-handed. And time to apologise.