Wednesday, 5 March 2014
National Health Amendment (Simplified Price Disclosure) Bill 2013; Second Reading
This is a bill that implements a change that Labor announced in August last year. It goes to the question of price disclosure for the way that the government purchases pharmaceuticals and the interaction between the manufacturers and pharmacies in our country. Price disclosure started in 2007 under the Howard government. The purpose then was to ensure that the government received price reductions when generic medicines were listed on the PBS schedule. It was further refined and extended in 2010 with an expanded and accelerated price disclosure program, which expanded the types of medicine that were included in schedule and it also reduced the cycle of data collection to 18 months. This bill today reduces the price disclosure cycle from 18 months to 12 months. It reduces the amount of time between when a company advises the price reduction of a drug and when the government starts paying that reduced cost. It is expected that this bill will save $835 million over three years and for that reason, of course, Labor will be supporting it.
In government we used the $1.9 billion that was saved through the measures that we introduced to make investments in health that delivered benefits to all Australians. Labor built more than 25 regional integrated cancer centres through an investment of $656 million—centres that are providing support to Australians in regional areas. Those patients were previously required to travel long distances over a long time to receive their treatment, but now can be provided with great services in regional centres. We invested a record $3.5 billion in medical research from 2008. This provided the record levels of National Health and Medical Research Council grants of $771 million in 2013, supporting over 8,500 researchers at more than 80 hospitals, medical research institutes and universities. The Health and Hospitals Fund also delivered $700 million to build and upgrade medical facilities right across the country, a fund that the coalition did not support in opposition and a fund we are unlikely to see again under this government. Labor's record in health, when in government, was one of reform and investment and one of which we are particularly proud.
With health costs increasing over time it does make sense to implement this change. What is important is to make sure that this money is reinvested into the health system. The shadow minister, Catherine King, in the other place urged the government to make sure that this money—this $835 million—is reinvested into health. The money, we believe, should be reinvested into the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme, not used to prop up government coffers. We as Australians can be particularly proud of our Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme. It is a scheme that has been operating, as we know, for many years now and it is one that is the envy of the Western world. It is a scheme that provides equitable access to pharmaceuticals in this country and at the best price possible for a nation of our size and of our population.
We wait with great interest to see what the government will actually do when it comes to the health portfolio. Minister Dutton has, in our view, very little vision for health other than finding savings for the Prime Minister. Despite consistently saying and promising not to cut money from the health budget, the government has already ripped $100 million from the Victorian Eye and Ear Hospital. We have seen the abolition of the Alcohol and Other Drugs Council, a body that has existed for over 50 years and has provided good research and advice to government about how to better manage the scourge of drugs and that misuse of alcohol in our community. The government has already backflipped on the promise not to close any of our Medicare Locals. Unfortunately, it has also abolished the expert advisory panel on the marketing of infant formula. Frankly, this government is not interested in getting accurate information about these significant aspects of health policy. Then we have seen the debacle of the pulling down of the health star-rating website, a website designed to provide good information to consumers and also to food manufacturers about the products that they make and use.
I acknowledge the view of the Pharmacy Guild, but we need to balance that view with the need to ensure that we are paying the right price—the right price, and not too much, not too little—for the pharmaceuticals that are purchased with taxpayers' money. The current government when in opposition was somewhat disingenuous, in our view, by whispering to pharmacists that it would not proceed with simplified price disclosure. On coming to government, it conceded that this policy was good policy, but I daresay it already knew this in opposition. The policy ensures that taxpayers pay the right price for pharmaceuticals. I urge the government to ensure that the savings are reinvested into the PBS for the benefit of all Australians. I can indicate to the chamber that Labor will be supporting this amendment to the national health legislation.