House debates

Thursday, 9 March 2023


National Health Amendment (Effect of Prosecution — Approved Pharmacist Corporations) Bill 2023; Second Reading

11:29 am

Photo of Ged KearneyGed Kearney (Cooper, Australian Labor Party, Assistant Minister for Health and Aged Care) Share this | | Hansard source

I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

The Labor Party has had a longstanding history of contribution to the legacy of universal health coverage in Australia. The Albanese government is committed to protecting and strengthening our world-class Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme, known as the PBS.

The PBS has continually provided affordable access to medicines for all Australians for over 70 years and is respected and valued for the high-quality, cost-effective medicines it delivers.

Australian government expenditure on the PBS was $14.7 billion in the 2021-22 financial year.

For the PBS to maintain its ability to support the costs of an increasing number and range of medicines, it is essential that the government protects Commonwealth funds through ensuring its integrity and financial viability of the scheme.

The National Health Amendment (Effect of Prosecution—Approved Pharmacist Corporations) Bill amends the National Health Act 1953 to support the effective operation of the PBS.

While the majority of pharmacists do the right thing when claiming PBS payments, there is unfortunately a small number that do not. In certain cases, it is a result of inappropriate claiming or, worse, fraud. Any pharmacist who has been prosecuted for PBS fraud should not be able to perpetrate further fraud against the Commonwealth.

Under the current legislation, an approval to supply PBS medicines can be held by a pharmacist as an individual or under a company structure.

Currently, if a pharmacist who is approved as an individual is prosecuted for a PBS fraud related offence, their approval can be suspended or revoked. However, if that same pharmacist operates under a company structure, there is no ability for that approval to be suspended or revoked.

This poses a real risk, as many pharmacists increasingly operate their pharmacy businesses under corporate structures. Such a pharmacist, if prosecuted of a PBS related offence, can continue to supply PBS medicines and perpetrate further fraud.

This bill introduces an amendment which will align with the original intent that the power to suspend or revoke the approval of a pharmacist who has been prosecuted for PBS fraud applies equally to all approvals. This is irrespective of whether the approval is held by an individual or under a company structure.

This bill will strengthen protection of the PBS regardless of the business ownership structure.

I would like to acknowledge and thank key stakeholders for their input and support for the amendments during consultation on this bill—in particular, the Pharmacy Guild of Australia, the Pharmaceutical Society of Australia, the Pharmacy Board of Australia and state and territory pharmacy regulators nationwide.

This government is aiming to ensure that Australians continue to have access through the PBS to affordable medicines when and where they need them. The proposed changes will contribute to the sustainability and continuity of access to PBS medicines by preventing abuse of the scheme.

Debate adjourned.