Senators pushed to hold firm on 60-day dispensing

Jolyon Attwooll

2/08/2023 3:45:21 PM

The policy is due to begin within weeks, but stalling tactics in the Australian Senate remain a possibility.

Pharmacist dispensing medication
It is expected the expanded dispensing measure will save Medicare card holders up to $180 a year for each medicine.

The RACGP has joined patient and healthcare groups to urge opposition and crossbench politicians in the Senate to avoid attempting to block a move to 60-day dispensing.
The first phase of the policy, which will double the amount of certain medications that can be dispensed on a single prescription and has been widely endorsed by patient groups, is due to start on 1 September.
However, there are concerns that a disallowance motion may be put forward in the Senate to attempt to stall its introduction.
In a joint press release, leaders from the AMA, Asthma Australia, Lung Foundation Australia, Breast Cancer Network Australia and the RACGP said such a move would have an adverse impact on patient care.
RACGP President Dr Nicole Higgins said she would like to see clarity from politicians on the issue and called upon Coalition leader Peter Dutton as well as the Greens Party to rule out a veto attempt.
‘Sixty-day dispensing is in patients’ best interests,’ she said.
‘It will save around six million people money and time, and free up GP consults for other patients.’  
While the dispensing policy does not need legislation, it is known as a disallowable instrument. That gives senators 15 sitting days of Parliament to veto the change after it is tabled to Parliament, which was due to take place this week.
A number of news reports have raised the possibility of a blocking attempt in the Senate, although neither the Coalition nor the Greens have yet confirmed their stance.
Federal Health and Aged Care Minister Mark Butler confirmed the move to 60-day dispensing in April this year, with extended prescriptions for PBS medications aimed at patients with stable health conditions receiving ongoing treatment.
The first phase in September is due to double dispensing times for 92 medications for patients whose conditions included cardiovascular disease, Crohn disease, gout, heart failure, high cholesterol, hypertension, osteoporosis and ulcerative colitis.
According to the Government, the move will save people with a Medicare card up to $180 every year for each medicine, and $43.80 a year for concession card holders.
Minister Butler has also estimated the policy will create more than $1.2 billion of Government savings, which he has said will be re-invested into pharmacy services, including vaccinations, medication safety, and support for people with opioid-dependency.
However, pharmacy groups including the Pharmacy Guild and the Pharmaceutical Society of Australia (PSA) have strongly protested against the move, saying it is likely to impact on the viability of community pharmacies.
At a speech at the PSA Conference last week, Minister Butler acknowledged the challenges of introducing the change, but called it ‘undeniably good health policy’.
‘International experience has shown that by working in partnership with Government and the pharmacy sector, 60-day prescriptions can be implemented without significant impact on the sector,’ he said.
‘That’s why it is the norm in so many countries around the world, countries that we world normally compare ourselves to, like New Zealand, Canada, the UK and others.’
He also announced a new Regional Pharmacy Transition Allowance worth $148.2 million which will come into effect on 1 September when the first 60-day prescriptions are due to be rolled out.
Minister Butler said that the measure, alongside the doubling of the Regional Pharmacy Maintenance Allowance, would offset the loss in dispensing income this financial year.
Dr Higgins said the College welcomed the funding injections for community pharmacies, including a 7% rise in dispensing fees that took effect on 1 July.
However, the new measures have been dismissed as inadequate by the Pharmacy Guild, with representatives from the organisation calling on politicians in the Senate to pause approval of the 60-day dispensing.
The measure was first recommended by the Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee (PBAC) in 2018, but has not been implemented since.
GPs are due be able to prescribe medicines on 30-day prescriptions, depending on their clinical judgement.
A newsGP poll indicated that 85% of readers supported the introduction of a 60-day dispensing measure.
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Dr Winston Smith   3/08/2023 9:07:15 AM

How can 5000 filthy rich shop owners hold the entire country to ransom? Every GP in the land should be up in arms about the bully boy tactics of the Pharmacy Guild. With their voracious grab for more money the only ones who will suffer are our patients. GP practices will also suffer from the ‘scope creep’ of the GP wannabes. Sleepers wake!