Extension to subsidised SMS e-scripts ‘needs long-term plan’

Morgan Liotta

1/06/2022 3:45:00 PM

The SMS fees will continue to be reimbursed until September, but some GPs are concerned about the uncertainty once the current extension expires.

Patient showing pharmacists eprescription.
Reimbursements of electronic prescription tokens sent via SMS will be extended until at least 30 September 2022.

On 18 May, the Department of Health (DoH) sent a letter to healthcare providers to inform them that reimbursements of electronic prescription tokens sent via SMS will be extended until ‘at least’ 30 September 2022.
This is a further extension to the announcement in August last year, and includes reimbursement for both original electronic prescription tokens and the cost of repeat tokens, as well as the 15 cents electronic prescription fee to be maintained until the Request for Tender process is finalised.
The RACGP supports the further extension and states it will continue to work with the DoH and the Australian Digital Health Agency (ADHA) to advocate for an ongoing funding model that supports uptake and provision of electronic prescriptions.
But while also supportive of the extension, Dr David Adam, RACGP Expert Committee – Practice Technology and Management member, is frustrated with the ongoing uncertainty.
‘We just need some clarity and some idea about what the long-term plan is,’ he told newsGP.
‘It’s just a repeated extension, but then GPs don’t know what to expect.’
Dr Adam is concerned about what will happen once the current three-month extension is up, saying that practice owners may not know whether they’re going to be billed after 30 September.
‘There’s lack of a clear plan … and [for practice owners], it’s pretty difficult to make a plan,’ he said.
‘I imagine the [Federal] Government is waiting until the Active Script List [ASL] system is implemented, but that’s been on the cooker now for more than 18 months, so I don’t know if that’s going to happen.’
Currently rolling out to pharmacies with compatible software across Australia, the ASL is expected to become available more broadly throughout 2022 and will ‘make life easier’ for patients, prescribers and dispensers, Dr Adam previously said.
The college supports implementation of the ASL as a permanent feature of electronic prescribing to improve the way patients and GPs manage multiple electronic prescriptions without incurring SMS fees.

While the latest extension to the subsidised arrangement means there is currently no cost to a practice for sending a prescription token via SMS, Dr Adam estimated that without the SMS subsidy, practices could foot a bill of around $1000 per year.
‘The numbers we’re talking about are not massive … but it’s the principle,’ he said.
‘Whatever arrangement is made needs to be sustainable in the long term.’
The interim agreement is expected to continue while the Request for Tender process is underway, and will continue to support electronic prescribing which has seen a substantial uptake.
According to the ADHA, as of February 2022, more than 37 million electronic prescriptions have been issued since May 2020 by more than 31,000 prescribers.
But Dr Adam reiterates the need to secure a permanent arrangement.
‘It’s an emblematic inability to commit to something long term,’ he said.
‘Unfortunately, we see a lot in this area. The announcement was made and are we just going to keep on waiting? Really, [another] three months? Come on.
‘There’s got to be some certainty – that’s a good way to give us some idea of what’s going to happen.’
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