Senate blocks last-minute attempt to delay 60-day dispensing

Michelle Wisbey

10/08/2023 4:30:11 PM

Debate over extended dispensing headlined a chaotic day in Parliament House that eventually secured its planned adoption next month.

Senators Simon Birmingham and Penny Wong.
Dispensing changes are set to save patients at least $180 a year, more if they are taking multiple medications. (Image: AAP Photos)

Landmark 60-day dispensing reforms will begin on 1 September, after the Labor party successfully pushed for an immediate vote on a Coalition-led disallowance motion it knew was doomed to fail.
Had it been successful, the disallowance motion would have substantially delayed the start of the new approach to dispensing.  
However, in a fiery and complex day inside Parliament House, the Coalition first put forward its motion, before attempting to delay the vote after determining it had not secured the support of the crossbench.
The motion was then tabled by Labor, which forced a vote that it helped to defeat 33–28, ending its chances of disrupting the new scheme when Parliament resumes on 4 September – three days after 60-day dispensing begins.
President Dr Nicole Higgins hailed it as a great day for Australian patients.
‘It shows that the voices of patients can be heard in our political capital, and that progressive health reform that puts health consumers at the centre can and does happen,’ she said.
‘Thirty-day dispensing has been an unnecessary financial pain, and a real burden for people who have a long drive to their nearest pharmacy or who find it difficult to leave their homes.
‘Australia needs a strong and sustainable primary care sector, with GPs working in teams with other specialists, pharmacists, allied health and nurses, for the best outcomes for our patients.’
Shadow Health Minister Anne Ruston had justified the disallowance motion by saying she wants the Government to ‘resolve legitimate concerns of community pharmacists’, such as Pharmacy Guild claims that it will shut down businesses, increase medicine costs, and lead to 20,000 job losses. 
However, despite a concerted campaign from pharmacy owners, the move has been widely supported by medical and patient groups, with the RACGP labelling it a ‘progressive policy [that] puts patients first’.
‘This has been something that has been in train for the last five years. It has been knocked back by the previous Liberal Government and once again they’ve succumbed to pressure,’ Dr Higgins said.
‘The Pharmacy Guild is one of our biggest political donors in Australia. They expect a return on investment, and they are trading off our patients for profits.
‘We need to put our patients first.’
The measure was first recommended by the Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee in 2018 but has face several significant hurdles along the way.
Sixty-day dispensing will double the maximum amount of medicines pharmacists can dispense for stable conditions on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme and is set to impact around six million people, potentially saving them $180 a year, or more if they are taking multiple medications.
It will also free up GP appointments for patients not needing to pick up scripts, bringing Australia into line with New Zealand, the US, and Canada.
Federal Health and Aged Care Minister Mark Butler slammed the Coalition’s defence of the Pharmacy lobby, saying the push for cheaper medications is coming amid a global cost of living crisis.
‘We know that it will free up millions of GP consults that are desperately needed out there,’ he said.
‘Instead of GPs being occupied with delivering routine repeat scripts, they’ll be able to provide that healthcare that is so desperately needed right now in the community.’
But this may not be the end of the fight for the Coalition, with Nationals Leader in the Senate Bridget McKenzie confirming a fresh attempt to disallow the change will be launched when Parliament resumes next month.
‘We have lodged this afternoon another disallowance for this mechanism,’ Senator McKenzie said.
‘This highlights for the Government that we are very, very serious.’
The first phase of the reform will see 92 medicines become eligible for 60-day dispensing, treating conditions including cardiovascular disease, Crohn disease, gout, heart failure, high cholesterol, hypertension, osteoporosis, and ulcerative colitis.
The specific medicines included in the second and third stages are yet to be determined.
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Dr Katherine Hedges Smith   11/08/2023 8:59:09 AM

I don't understand how this will free up GP appointments. I give patients a 6 month supply of scripts, it's just the pharmacy that blocks dispensing the whole 6 months.

A.Prof Michael Scott Clements   11/08/2023 8:16:55 PM

To answer for those reading Dr Katherines question:

With the option for GPs to prescribe 60 days per dispensing period will be the option of 5 repeats. Hence 12 months worth of meds with one script. This is optional and only for when clinically appropriate and may lead to less GP visits for stable patients.

Dr Katrina Denison   12/08/2023 1:26:14 AM

I don’t understand that either. I agree it has nothing to do with our time.