Transcript: ABC Radio Adelaide on the PBS co-payment

Medicines Australia CEO, Elizabeth de Somer on Afternoons with Sonya Feldhoff ABC Radio Adelaide, Tuesday 3 May 2022
Transcript: Medicines Australia CEO, Elizabeth de Somer on Afternoons with Sonya Feldhoff ABC Radio Adelaide, Tuesday 3 May 2022
Subject: PBS co-payment

HOST, SONYA FELDHOFF: We were talking yesterday – both of the major parties have offered incentives in reductions to medicines being offered on the PBS scheme. Yesterday we were talking about this, and it was roundly welcomed and seemed like a great idea – that it might be a big saver. But will you actually benefit? Elizabeth de Somer is the CEO of Medicines Australia. Thank you for your time, Elizabeth.

ELIZABETH DE SOMER: Thank you for having me.

SONYA: How many medications that most people – I guess you can’t say how many – but what sort of percentage of medications that people are on, would fit into that over $42.50 PBS bracket?

ELIZABETH: The kind of medicines that are more expensive to the general co-payment above $42.50 are many of the new innovative medicines. A lot of them are medicines that you might receive from a specialist to treat particularly difficult diseases such as Rheumatoid arthritis, Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. Those kinds of diseases that are quite complex and are attracting very new, innovative treatment regimes.

SONYA: And so, if we’re just talking about blood pressure or cholesterol or the contraceptive pill – those things that people take en masse and relatively frequently – those are what, already subsidised or already at a much lower price?

ELIZABETH: Yes – for many, many years the pharmaceutical industry has been working collaboratively with the Government to maintain access to those innovative medicines. But once a patent expires and there’s multiple brands of medicines, the prices come down quite significantly. And the majority of those medicines where there are multiple brands available, they are achievable at quite low prices now.

SONYA: We were kind of celebrating these promises from the election campaign from the major parties yesterday. I think most of us had the view that this would be quite wide ranging. Can you quantify how many people are likely to benefit from this?

ELIZABETH: Gosh, I think the actual numbers are probably available – a bit of data crunching to do – but I think it’s quite a small amount of people – probably 10% of people who are taking those more expensive medicines. For example, I take a number of those medicines for Rheumatoid arthritis and so somebody like me would be paying the $42.50 per prescription and would welcome a $10 or $12.50 cut to that. But if you are an older person or are a person who has already gone below that co-pay, you can get access to those medicines from a range of places, not just your retail pharmacy – your discount chemist as well. Shop around for the best price.

SONYA: I saw a figure that around – this would only impact only 3% of people who are taking those medications. Does that sound about right to you?

ELIZABETH: I think the important thing is that these are still very important medicines, and these innovations need to be made available to people. The benefit for those people is very real and they should be welcomed. There are a number of new medicines that need to be made available to patients and the most important thing is that people shouldn’t have to wait or make choices about not taking their medicines because they’re not affordable.

SONYA: Elizabeth, could this have gone further? Could these promises have gone further? Is there scope to help people more with some of those medications you’re talking about?

ELIZABETH: Our focus has really been on the time it takes to access those medicines. Medicines that are already available, obviously reducing the cost-of-living burden for people is really, really important. But there are a range of innovative treatments that people are waiting for that have been assessed as safe and effective, and have been assessed as cost effective, that are still not being made available to patients who need them. So, our focus is on reducing the time to access.

SONYA: It just struck me then if we’re seeing the Government bear more of the cost and consumers not, in terms of some of these medicines, is there any chance that that would flow on to a bit of a backlog on new medicines to come on the PBS because those costs that are being shouldered by the government are now greater?

ELIZABETH: Well, I read an article today and we’ve seen that over successive agreements between the pharmaceutical industry and the Commonwealth Government – the price of medicines and the cost of the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) have been pretty much flat or declining in real terms. So, there’s certainly headroom and availability for the spending on medicines to increase to be made available for patients when they need them. There’s no real reason why patients should be waiting.

SONYA: Any medication, specifically that you’re thinking about Elizabeth?

ELIZABETH: Without naming specific medicines, we’ve seen some amazing new technologies and new innovative treatment therapies come in to treat cancers, to treat chronic diseases and genetic disorders, and really, once the regulator has determined that they’re high quality, safe and effective, that they are cost effective, that they are value for money – they should be made immediately available to the patients who need them. Many patients who are waiting for these treatments don’t have the luxury of time, and their health deteriorates while they wait.

SONYA: Elizabeth, thank you for joining us today.


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