Greens back Labor on 60-day prescription dispensing policy

The Australian Greens have announced their support for the Labor government’s policy to allow 60-day dispensing of some medicines, despite the opposition from the Coalition and the Pharmacy Guild. The policy, which is set to come into effect on September 1, 2023, aims to save consumers money and time by reducing the number of visits to the pharmacy.

Greens back Labor

Policy benefits 6 million Australians

According to the Labor health minister, Tanya Plibersek, the policy will benefit about 6 million Australians who take medicines for chronic conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure, and arthritis. She said that the policy would save consumers an average of $120 a year on prescription fees and co-payments, as well as reduce the inconvenience of having to go to the pharmacy every month.

Plibersek also said that the policy was based on the advice of the Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee (PBAC), an independent expert body that recommends which medicines should be subsidised by the government. The PBAC recommended 60-day dispensing for 143 medicines in 2019, after finding that it was safe and effective for patients.

The policy has been endorsed by consumer groups, medical groups, and health economists, who argue that it will improve access and adherence to medicines, especially for people in rural and remote areas, and those who face financial hardship or mobility issues.

Coalition and Pharmacy Guild oppose policy

However, the policy has faced strong opposition from the Coalition and the Pharmacy Guild, which represents community pharmacists. They claim that the policy will hurt small businesses and compromise patient care.

The Coalition’s health spokesperson, Peter Dutton, said that the policy would rip $160,000 out of each pharmacy’s revenue per year, forcing some to close down or cut staff. He also said that the policy would reduce the frequency of interactions between pharmacists and patients, which could lead to missed opportunities for health checks, advice, and referrals.

Dutton said that if Labor did not pause the policy, he would move a disallowance motion in the Senate to block it. He said that he had the support of some crossbench senators, including Pauline Hanson and Jacqui Lambie.

The Pharmacy Guild’s president, Trent Twomey, said that he was disappointed by the Greens’ decision to back Labor on the policy. He said that the Greens had ignored the concerns of pharmacists and patients, and had betrayed their commitment to supporting small businesses and regional communities.

Twomey said that the policy was a “blunt instrument” that did not take into account individual patient needs and preferences. He said that pharmacists were best placed to determine the appropriate dispensing interval for each patient, based on their clinical and social circumstances.

He also said that the policy was a “Trojan horse” for further cuts to pharmacy funding and services, as part of Labor’s plan to slash $3 billion from the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) over four years.

Greens defend their position

The Greens’ health spokesperson, Jordon Steele-John, said that he was proud to support Labor on the policy, which he said was a “common sense” reform that would benefit millions of Australians. He said that he was not convinced by the arguments of the Coalition and the Pharmacy Guild, which he said were motivated by self-interest and fear-mongering.

Steele-John said that he respected the role of pharmacists in providing quality health care, but he did not believe that their business model should depend on forcing patients to pay more for their medicines than they need to. He said that pharmacists should be compensated for their professional services through other means, such as increased funding for medication reviews, chronic disease management programs, and vaccination services.

He also said that he trusted the PBAC’s recommendations, which he said were based on rigorous evidence and consultation. He said that he was confident that patients would still have access to regular consultations with their pharmacists and doctors, regardless of how often they filled their prescriptions.

He also said that he supported Labor’s plan to invest $3 billion in new and improved medicines for Australians, which he said would deliver better health outcomes and value for money than subsidising unnecessary dispensing fees.

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