Pharmacists concerned over PBS changes

PHARMACISTS are warning that under changes to the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme, customers who purchase PBS subsidised prescriptions will have to fill more scripts before reaching the safety net.

From January 1 pharmacists have the ability to reduce the cost of prescription medicine subsidised by the PBS by up to a dollar.

The change will mostly impact pensioners and other concessional card holders, with 80% of PBS scripts concessional.

For concession card holders, it would see their co-payment potentially fall from $6.20 to $5.20.

Ada & Flynn pharmacist Hugh Ada said the discount would mean customers who reach the safety net won't do so until later in the year, if at all.

"Customers will have to purchase more prescriptions to get them to the dollar value to be eligible for the safety net and free medication," he said.

Currently, pensioners and concession card holders who spend $372 on PBS-subsidised medicine reach the safety net threshold and are then entitled to free PBS-subsidised scripts.

Last year, it took 60 PBS-subsidised scripts to reach that threshold, however, with the discount it takes 72 to reach the same figure.

"Discounting the prescription is better for the customer in the short term, but in the long term they won't be on the safety net as early or as long, therefore will probably lose out in the year," Mr Ada said.

Minister for Health Sussan Ley said the discount on PBS prescriptions was a win for consumers, who would still spend the same dollar amount to reach the eligibility threshold.

"If you are a concession card holder who fills 40 PBS-subsidised scripts in a year, they have have the opportunity to save as much as $40," she said.

"If a patient pays less for their prescriptions thanks to this discount and they don't reach their safety net as a result, that's a positive because it means they are spending less money overall on prescription medicine."

However Pharmacy Guild of Australia spokesman Greg Turnbull said the discount was actually a saving measure from the government

"By delaying patient access to the safety net, the government could save up to $373 million," he said.

"The cost of this discount is felt by the pharmacist, not the government.

"Concession card holders still have to spend the same amount to reach the threshold, but with each discount there could be a dollar less going towards that amount.

"We certainly think from our experience, customers who are used to reaching the safety net in August or September will still expect to reach it then."

Ms Ley said the reform was an important step towards competition in the industry.

"Endless reviews have called for consumers to have access to greater competition in this area and the ability to discount Government-subsidised PBS scripts is a sensible step in the right direction," she said.

Mr Turnbull said the cost of the potential price differences are contrary to what the PBS stands for, and customers in rural areas could lose out if their pharmacy was not able to pass on the savings.

"We don't think it's right that someone in Pitt St should pay a dollar less for their medicine than someone in Grafton," he said.

"It's a bad principle."

Topics:  pharmaceutical benefits scheme

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