Extended dispensing a ‘win for patients’

Matt Woodley

26/04/2023 3:49:37 PM

Hundreds of medications will become eligible for 60-day supply from September in a move likely to save the healthcare system billions.

Pharmacist holding script and medicines
More than 320 PBS medicines have been earmarked for extended 60-day dispensing.

More than 320 PBS medicines have been earmarked for extended 60-day dispensing, Federal Health and Aged Care Minister Mark Butler has announced.
The move, first floated in 2018 following a Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Council (PBAC) recommendation, doubles the amount a pharmacy can dispense of certain medications from standard 28- or 30-day limits and is expected to slash money spent on dispensing.
People with chronic conditions such as heart disease and hypertension are likely to save up to $180 per year as a result of the change, which the Federal Government anticipates will translate to $1.6 billion over four years.
RACGP President Dr Nicole Higgins responded to the news by describing it as a momentous day.
‘This is a win for patients,’ she said.
‘Cost of living pressures are placing tremendous strain on households across Australia, so there has never been a more important time to save patients money and time.
‘This announcement shows the tide is finally turning … this change has been recommended because it is in the best interests of patients, and I am pleased that the Government has heeded the expert advice.’
Aside from benefiting patients, Dr Higgins told newsGP extended dispensing will also help ease pressure on practice waiting lists and mean GPs can devote more energy to caring for patients and less time re-writing scripts.
‘This is an issue the college has been vocal about since the PBAC first recommended extended dispensing back in 2018,’ she said.
‘We’ve been working tirelessly behind the scenes to ensure those in the halls of power understand why this is such a win for patients and Australia’s overall healthcare system, and I’m so pleased to see those efforts bear fruit.
‘These changes have been driven by the college and we also appreciate the support of the AMA in this space.
‘Advocacy like this is what members want from the RACGP and we’re delivering. Hopefully some of the billions saved from this move can be reinvested in general practice to further safeguard the health and wellbeing of our country into the future.’
The shift is expected to take place in stages, with 100 medicines listed in September, followed by a second round of additions in March next year with the remainder taking place in September 2024.
Once completed, the change will bring Australia into line with New Zealand, the United Kingdom, France and Canada, where patients already have access to multiple months of medications on a single prescription.
Speaking to reporters after the announcement, Minister Butler described the issues patients face with the current dispensing limits and explained the reasoning behind his decision.
‘[At the moment] patients with chronic disease at the very least need to make two visits to a GP every year and 12 visits to a pharmacist every year to get their medicines – making co-payments to the pharmacist on every single one of those visits,’ he said.
‘Accepting the advice of the … committee for two months’ supply of medicine, which is what the Government is doing, will halve that number of visits.
‘This will obviously involve much less inconvenience for patients, which will reduce pressure which we know is substantial on general practice and, importantly, it will halve the cost of those medicines for six million patients.’
In addition to doctor groups like the RACGP and AMA, extended dispensing has also been welcomed by the Consumers Health Forum, with CEO Dr Elizabeth Deveny calling it a ‘really good move’.
‘Every dollar saved at the pharmacy is money that can be spent on groceries or rent,’ she said.
‘This is especially important for those with complex, chronic conditions.
‘We also hope that doctors and pharmacists will embrace this new move to make medicines and healthcare generally more affordable.’
But while doctors seem to be on board, the Pharmacy Guild has been vehemently opposed, claiming it will lead to medicines shortages and hundreds of pharmacies going out of business.
Both Minister Butler and Dr Higgins have dismissed these concerns as a ‘scare campaign’.
‘A recent Westpac report found that pharmacies are reaping record profits, with the total consumer spending in pharmacies rising from $92.5 million in July 2019 to more than $123 million in January this year,’ Dr Higgins said.
‘Also, despite what you hear from the Pharmacy Guild, there is no evidence of a shortage of the medications that are included in today’s announcement.
‘Some pharmacy owners may be concerned that they will lose retail sales; however, at the end of the day cheaper access to lifesaving medications must come before retail sales, it’s as simple as that.’
The RACGP President also listed a host of other reforms that the college is advocating for, including extending the length of prescriptions for patients with stable chronic conditions and investigating the merits of the $1 discount rule, which dissuades pharmacies from discounting medicines that cost more than the current co-payment of $30.
‘My aim is for today’s announcement to be just the beginning,’ she said.
‘I’m also focused on reforming the PBS prescribing system to reduce administration time and free up GPs to do what they do best – care for patients.
‘Right now, the system is too cumbersome and time-consuming. If it was streamlined, GPs would be able to spend more time with patients rather than admin work. As a practising GP in Mackay, that sounds like a winning combination to me.
‘It’s also vital that the Government overhauls Australia’s anti-competitive pharmacy ownership and location laws, which inflate costs for patients. The rules appear to be focused on protecting pharmacy owners rather than increasing patient access to cheaper medicines.
‘Today is a great day for Australian patients and we are just getting started. The tide is turning, and patient wellbeing is front and centre – right where it should be.
‘Mark my words, this is just the beginning.’
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Dr Graham James Lovell   27/04/2023 8:19:41 AM

Congratulations! to everyone out there who has helped achieve this. This article above illustrates the illogic of 30 day dispensing for Chronic health conditions.
Bizarre compensation mechanisms that the Pharmacies have managed to procure from the Federal Government for any reduction in business volume will I’m sure keep them afloat. If not I am sure their non evidence based sales of A to Z of non-prescription items will…..