Review options undermine industry and risk negative outcomes for consumers

Members of the Medicines Partnership of Australia (MPA), the nation’s pharmaceutical supply chain peak body, have expressed concern that proposed options in the Review of Pharmacy Remuneration and Regulation’s Interim Report will have significant unintended consequences for the industry and a negative impact on consumers.

The Interim Report, which was released 22 June, outlines several key options for change in the pharmaceutical supply chain, including increased pharmacy regulation, changes to PBS pricing rules, abolition of the optional $1 discount of the patient co-payment, the introduction of tendering for generic medicines and several options for removing, retaining or replacing the existing Community Service Obligation (CSO) for wholesalers.

“In assessing the options put forward by the Panel, the MPA is concerned about the consequences of some of the proposed changes as they  may ultimately increase prices and reduce choices for consumers, and threaten patient accessibility to critical medicines,” MPA Chair Donna Staunton said. “It is almost as if they have started from a fixed end point and then attempted to find evidence to support that point of view,” she added.

“The Australian pharmaceutical industry has been identified as one of the key sectors for our nation’s future economic success. Last month, we took a positive step forward with the Federal Budget funding announcements, but we view this Interim Report in many ways, as a step backwards that has the potential to harm the future growth of the sector,” she said.

Medicines Australia Chief Executive Milton Catelin expressed concerns about proposed changes to the supply chain model, and choice of medicines for patients.

“These suggestions could have far reaching consequences for this industry and importantly, on patients through changes that may impact the reliability of the supply chain for medicines. This will therefore need careful scrutiny,” he said.

“Medicines Australia believes any reforms to how medicines are supplied by manufacturers to pharmacies and patients must ensure equity of access for patients wherever they reside and equity of distribution choice for manufacturing companies.”

PBS regulation changes put forward in the Interim Report also extended to generics, with the Panel suggesting the introduction of tenders for generic branded medicines, an outcome that would limit the number of options for consumers.

NPSA Chair Mark Hooper echoed a similar sentiment, describing the document as, “extremely disappointing”, lacking in rigour and failing to identify any consequences of its recommendations.

“We already have medicines shortages in Australia, so we fail to see how a proposal to effectively shift away from a hub and spoke distribution model with in-built redundancy will alleviate this or enhance access to essential medicines for consumers,” he said.

“It is also particularly disappointing that the Panel has chosen to make supply chain suggestions that appear to fundamentally ignore not only submissions provided by the CSO wholesalers but also those of the Guild, Medicines Australia and individual manufacturers.”

Under changes proposed by the Panel, pharmacies would be prohibited from offering consumers discounted prices on PBS listed items, adversely affecting around 85 per cent of the Australian population to the tune of $94 million.

Increased regulation on community pharmacy, possible reductions in dispensing remuneration and radical changes to pharmacy location rules could “put at risk one of the most trusted, sustainable and best performing parts of Australia’s health system,” said Pharmacy Guild of Australia President George Tambassis.

“Australia’s 5,600 community pharmacies, their 50,000 hard-working staff and millions of loyal patients need certainty and security about their ability to deliver and receive the highest quality healthcare.

“This Review should be enhancing rather than threatening one of the most strongly supported parts of Australia’s health system,” he said.

The peak national body for pharmacists, the Pharmaceutical Society of Australia (PSA), welcomed the Panel’s finding that, “there is significant opportunity to better utilise the skills of pharmacists to support improved access to health services and improved health outcomes for the community,” and welcomed the abolition of the $1 discount on the PBS patient co-payment.

However, PSA National President Joe Demarte said there were some concerning issues in the Interim Report.

“The implication that pharmacy could give back $1.9 billion over the next four years through a flat dispensing fee option of between $9 and $11.50 is concerning, particularly given the heavy impact of price disclosure,” Mr Demarte said.

“We are seriously concerned about the flow-on effects of this for pharmacists’ wages – the main cause of dissatisfaction in the profession.  Furthermore, while the interim report acknowledges the positive impact of a range of pharmacists’ services, it’s vague on presenting concrete options for progressing services to benefit consumers.”

Ends.

Contact: Donna Staunton 0413 185 724