New findings confirm Australians place high value on the PBS, but acknowledge its shortfalls

Medicines Australia has released a nationwide survey of 2,000 Australian adults, conducted by Nielsen in November 2018, which confirms a very positive sentiment towards medicines and the PBS over and above other Government services. However, it also uncovers a need for greater education and awareness on how the PBS is funded by Government. Plus, how its ongoing future and timely access to new medicines can be sustained.

  • The majority of Australians place medicines (69%), medical research (65%) alongside hospitals and medical services (75%), public health services (70%), as priority areas for future funding1. This is over and above other services, including welfare for the aged (64%), education (63%), and disability welfare (61%).
  • While most Australians (87%) believe government needs to allocate funding for the PBS, only one in five (22%) believe the PBS provides access to the most/widest range of medicines/high cost medicines.
  • Overwhelmingly, Australians (82%) agree breakthrough treatments should be added to the PBS faster to improve access for Australians who need them.
  • Similarly, the majority of Australians (85%) believe the PBS enables better outcomes for those who need it most1. In future, they would like to see more subsidised medicines and treatment/therapies for those suffering from serious health issues.

The PBS was originally designed in 1948 to provide reliable, timely and affordable access to a wide range of medicines for all Australians.

More than 50 years on and the PBS remains a critical service within Australian healthcare delivery. But now it requires a renewed focus to ensure it evolves and offers the potential to support access to the newer innovations and breakthroughs now arriving – including personalised medicines and cell therapies like CAR-T.

Recent analyses show overall the long-term trend of PBS investment is in decline in real terms.[1] Data from the Department of Health shows actual spend on the PBS is just over half of its claimed $10.6 billion, equating to, on average, 4.5 new or expanded listings per month, not 30+.

While an estimated $331 million[2] commitment for new medicines under the PBS has been outlined in the most recent budget announcements, other areas of healthcare continue to receive significant investment. Pre-election commitments include a doubling in hospital investment from $13.3 billion in 2012–13 to $29.1 billion in 2024–25, while Medicare will attract an additional $6 billion in funding.

Australia, like many countries around the world is facing an aging population, an increased prevalence of chronic diseases and the need for timely access to care within a fiscally constrained environment.

These findings show Australians want future access to breakthrough medicines. What is critical is to balance this innovation and affordability with the expectations of Australians. This will challenge some of our long-standing healthcare policies. We only have to look at the evolution in precision medicine and the impact targeted therapies can have on health outcomes and costs.

Rather than isolate the PBS we need to look at the interconnected, holistic relationship between medicines and their wider benefits – how they help Australians live longer and healthier lives, stay in the workplace, keep out of hospital and positively contribute to the community and the economy.

Spending on prescription medicines remains a small percentage of total health care expenditure around the world[3], accounting for about 14% of total healthcare spend in the US and just 10% in Australia. Furthermore, growth in other health care services will be five times the total medicine spending growth through the next decade.2

Ensuring we retain a viable and effective PBS into the future is a critical priority,” concluded Liz de Somer. “Australians value the PBS and believe it needs to support access, so it’s important we address how we continue to meet these needs and ensure  a balance of investment across all elements of healthcare delivery to achieve this.

[1]2019-20 Medicines Australia Federal Budget Submission. Our choice for a healthier future

[2] Department of Health. Budget 2019-20

[3] Prescription Medicines: Costs in Context. 2019. PhRMA.