National Health Amendment

I am pleased to speak on the National Health Amendment (Pharmaceutical Benefits) Bill 2015. I commend the Minister for Health on her consultation with the whole of the supply chain and her work in this area. As we know, the PBS operates under the National Health Act 1953 and provides Australians right around Australia with timely, reliable and affordable access to necessary and costeffective medicines. The PBS Access and Sustainability Package was announced by the Australian government in May 2015. The package establishes pharmacy funding, medicine-pricing arrangements and a range of sector improvements to ensure ongoing access to innovative medicine through a sustainable PBS. That is the critical issue—a sustainable PBS.

I note as well that since coming to office the Abbott government has doubled the number of drug listings for consumers—a significant investment of over $3 billion in just over 18 months. This is a major achievement by the government. It has doubled the number of drugs in half of the time, compared to the previous government. This investment will continue to grow. There are new medicines listed. There is one for melanoma that would cost $131,000 per patient if it were not subsidised through the PBS. A cystic fibrosis treatment would cost $300,000 per patient if it were not subsidised through the PBS. A further one for breast cancer would cost $82,000 per patient if it were not subsidised through the PBS. A medicine for pancreatic cancer would cost $16,000 per patient if it were not subsidised. There is also a retinal treatment that would cost $10,000 per patient if it were not subsidised. The importance of these to the individual patients cannot be underestimated. I meet people all of the time who say to me that they would have had to sell their houses if these drugs were not available on the PBS. They tell me how grateful they are to the government for listing them.

None of us should underestimate what this means for the people suffering from these diseases and conditions. As a result of this agreement Australians will benefit from cheaper medicines, a more competitive pharmacy sector and greater investment in new medicines, as I have discussed. This investment in new medicines is a key issue. There is also investment in patient support services as part of a balanced package of pharmaceutical reforms. This was developed after months of constructive consultation and robust negotiation across the entire pharmaceutical supply chain. That included consumers, pharmacists, medicine manufacturers, wholesalers and doctors. During consultations to deliver this package stakeholders all recognised the need to deliver a more sustainable PBS to ensure that the government could continue to list these new medicines I have mentioned and others to come. Each one is in its own way a life-changing and sometimes life-saving medicine.The consultations included the Consumers Health Forum, the Pharmacy Guild of Australia, the Generic Medicines Industry Association, Medicines Australia, the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners, the National Pharmaceutical Services Association, the Pharmaceutical Society of Australia, the ASMI and the Australian Medical Association. This resulted in a package proposing total efficiencies of $6.6 billion over five years across the entire pharmaceutical supply chain. The cost of the PBS over the next five years is expected to be $50 billion.

As I said, since coming to office this government has doubled the number of drug listings for consumers. That is a significant investment of almost $3 billion in just over 18 months. As I mentioned when I started my comments, the people who are affected by this significant investment are extremely grateful that the government has taken this particular course. We are now delivering each month an average of 30 new and amended drug listings for patients. That is huge. I hope nobody underestimates the value of that to the individuals and families who are affected. Often that can be overlooked in a robust discussion. This government is certainly delivering.

And of course efficiency is necessary to contain a blowing-out of costs. For example, removing originator brands from price calculations could save some consumers up to 50 per cent off the price of medicines, and taxpayers $2 billion over five years. To spend it, you have to have the money in the first place. Changes to price disclosure arrangements apply to medicines that are subject to competition, which will see the price of generic medicines for consumers reduce as much as 50 per cent from October 2016. This will be done by removing the originator brand version of the drug from pricing calculations. These cheaper medicine prices will also see taxpayers paying less, delivering $2 billion worth of efficiencies for taxpayers between October 2016 and the end of the agreement, which will assist the government’s capacity to continue to list new medicines. We have to continue to list new medicines, and this is part of how we will deliver that.

The package also proposes a $20 million awareness campaign to support the increased use of biosimilar medicines by patients, pharmacists and specialists. Biosimilars are complex biological medicines that are approved by the Therapeutic Goods Administration as an alternative to an existing brand. The proposal to allow pharmacists to discount the price of medicines by up to $1 per script could save some pensioners over $40 per year while also delivering the government around $400 million worth of efficiencies over five years. This could see a concessional patient’s co-payment drop from $6.10 to $5.10 and deliver someone who uses 40 scripts a year an annual up-front saving of up to $40. It will also apply to non-concessional patients, who pay a co-payment worth $37.70.

The government is proposing a Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme access and sustainability package over the next five years which will include the Sixth Community Pharmacy Agreement, a strategic agreement with the Generic Medicines Industry Association, and a $2.8 billion additional direct investment across the pharmacy sector. An in-principle strategic agreement with Medicines Australia is also being progressed. The proposal is to reduce the cost of these medicines for consumers and taxpayers. It includes a $1.5 billion investment in a new handling and infrastructure fee for pharmacists, to help restore pharmacist remuneration to average levels provided under the previous Fifth Community Pharmacy Agreement and provide greater certainty by delinking remuneration from the variability of price disclosure—something important to the pharmacists themselves. They have not been asked to give up location advantages as part of this package. The head of power in the act for the pharmacy location rules and the Australian Community Pharmacy Authority will be extended until 30 Juy 202. Because the details of the pharmacy location rules are determined separately, the effect of extending the expiry is that current arrangements can continue without interruption past the end of June 2015—the certainty issue. A review of pharmacy location rules will be conducted within two years as part of a broader review of pharmacy remuneration and other arrangements.

Many members have spoken about the pharmacies in their electorates. I have one compounding pharmacy in my electorate that is particularly important to people with specific needs. There are some families who rely entirely on this particular pharmacy. It provides an invaluable service to many families who live in rural and regional areas. A lot of pharmacies in smaller communities play a really significant role in providing a range of services to communities that otherwise would not have them. There are small communities in my electorate that do not have a resident doctor. Frequently people will go to the local pharmacist and have a chat. Often that may result in them attending their general practitioner, but equally they rely on the pharmacy in that small community for practical advice on what their issues are. Mr Deputy Speaker Randall, you would have seen much of this in your own electorate. There are communities that rely very heavily on those small pharmacies. And of course these people are small business people and they have invested in those communities as well. That is certainly valued by those smaller communities.

The one issue that I do not want to see overlooked is the significant investment in new medicines, the impact that has on individuals and families, and the commitment that this government has made to continuing that process. Many of us have met people who are profoundly impacted by the diseases and conditions that I spoke about and are incredibly grateful for the fact that this government has made very tough decisions in very difficult financial circumstances but is committed to the health and wellbeing of Australians in many ways, significantly through the additional listings of these medicines. There are a number of reasons why I support the bill before the House but very much a part of it is the ongoing listing of those medicines for Australians. I commend the bill to the House.