Medicine reforms save patients $250 million: Health Minister

Michelle Wisbey

27/11/2023 4:01:34 PM

The past 12 months have brought a raft of changes to 60-day dispensing, the PBS, and bulk billing, but the sector is still crying out for funding.

 Colourful pills with Australian dollars on table
Since 60-day dispensing kicked off in September, already 600,000 scripts have been issued.

Patients are beginning to reap the rewards as many medicines become cheaper than ever before, but the RACGP says more work is needed to create a truly equitable healthcare system.
New analysis from the Department of Health and Aged Care (DoH) has revealed Australians are on track to save $250 million on their medicines in 2023, thanks to the culmination of two key reforms.
The biggest savings-creator comes from changes to the maximum cost of a prescription on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS), lowered from $42.50 to $30 in January.
This delivered around $240 million back to Australians on around 21.6 million cheaper prescriptions this year.
Additionally, after years of campaigning from the RACGP, 60-day dispensing passed through Federal Parliament, with more than 600,000 scripts issued since it became available and saving patients around $5 million.
That change came despite a fierce and relentless campaign against the reform from the Pharmacy Guild of Australia.
And their fight is not over, with more than half of all respondents to a recent newsGP poll saying their local pharmacy has actively discouraged them or their patients from implementing 60-day prescriptions.
RACGP President Dr Nicole Higgins told newsGP it is pleasing to see that after consistent campaigning and dedication, patients are starting to make significant savings on their medications.
‘Feedback from patients is overwhelmingly supportive that we’re able to make their medications cheaper and it’s something that is being rolled out slowly without any significant problems,’ she said.
‘It is disappointing, however, that some patients have been informed by their pharmacists to lobby their GPs against 60-day dispensing or being charged more.’
According to the DoH, the tripling of the bulk billing incentive has seen GPs in clinics in every state and territory increasing the availability of the service since it kicked off on 1 November.
ForHealth chief executive Andrew Cohen said for 20 of the medical clinics within his company, there has already been a five-percentage point increase in bulk billing.
Of those 20 practices, which previously had the lowest rate of bulk billing, 71% of patients were bulk billed after the higher Medicare payments were introduced.
‘Our modelling shows families of children under 16 and patients with concession cards often cut back on visiting the GP when gap fees are introduced,’ Mr Cohen said.
‘When these patients make fewer visits to the GP, particularly now the bulk billing incentive has been tripled, the lower volume of visits results in a fall in GP billings, in most cases. This negates any benefit that a GP might have hoped for by introducing a large gap fee for eligible patients.
‘The net economic benefit of bulk billing a healthcare card holder now the incentive has been tripled is very clear in almost all areas, and especially so in regional areas with loadings.’
But despite these wins for Australians, Dr Higgins said there is still much to be done to ensure patients and doctors alike are working in a quality healthcare system.
‘It’s good to see the hard work paid off, but there’s a lot more to do with respect to GPs continuing to subsidise patient care, especially for longer consultations and more complex care,’ she said.
‘We need to have the tripling of the bulk billing incentive for mental health item numbers for our vulnerable patients.
‘We know that the longer that you spend with a patient, as a GP you’re financially penalised and this particularly is having an impact on our female GPs and contributing to the gender pay gap within general practice.’
Dr Higgins was in Canberra on Monday, speaking with politicians, health department officials, and GPs, and said looking forward to 2024, doctor shortages continue to be front of mind.
‘Everyone in the health department is acutely aware of the challenges that general practice faces and the focus is particularly on GP workforce,’ she said.
‘We need to make sure we fund general practice as a priority versus throwing money at an expensive hospital system.
‘The RACGP has worked really hard to establish relationships with all players in the healthcare sector, with our stakeholders, with government, with the opposition in all states and this has enabled us to be at the table and be part of the decisions that are being made about our profession.’
Between January and October this year, each state and territory has benefited from the lowering of the PBS copayment, as seen below:

  • Australian Capital Territory: $5 million saved on 450,000 scripts
  • New South Wales: $63 million saved on 5.6 million scripts
  • Northern Territory: $1.3 million saved on 112,000 scripts
  • Queensland: $39 million saved on 3.5 million scripts
  • South Australia: $13 million saved on 1.1 million scripts
  • Tasmania: $4.2 million saved on 370,000 scripts
  • Victoria: $52 million saved on 4.7 million scripts
  • Western Australia: $23 million saved on 2.1 million scripts
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Dr William James Hare   28/11/2023 12:57:40 PM

The RACGP should be campaigning to increase Medicare rebates for consultations and to abolish bulk bill incentives not increase them