Health Minister Mark Butler has condemned the community pharmacy peak body over its latest attack on impending changes to drug dispensing rules, in a move he labelled a “cynical scare campaign” designed to “scare vulnerable aged care residents”.
It follows new cost analysis released by the Pharmacy Guild of Australia on Monday which claimed aged-care residents will be hit with an $806 annual bill for weekly prescriptions as a result of Labor’s controversial 60-day dispensing rules.
Currently, community pharmacies are distributing medicines to 188,000 elderly Australians living in residential aged-care facilities each week at zero cost through subsidies for pharmacy dispensing fees.
But the Pharmacy Guild has claimed the service will no longer be financially viable due to the government’s new double dispensing rules – changes that will allow Australians to fill two months’ worth of prescription for the price of one.
The reform has been fiercely opposed by the guild, who claim it will halve the funding that some 6000 community pharmacies receive to dispense medicine.
However, according to modelling submitted by the Office of Impact Analysis, on average the changes would only reduce funding for dispensing of Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) medication by 18 per cent in four years time.
“PBS revenue is only one of the revenue sources for community pharmacies, and other sources of income are not captured in this analysis,” the impact analysis report stated.
The government estimates at least 6 million Australians will benefit from the policy, which will halve the price of more than 320 medicines covered by the PBS from September.
Speaking on Sky News on Monday morning, guild vice president Anthony Tassone urged the government to pause the rollout of 60-day dispensing to avoid unintended consequences from the policy.
“Rushing … major reform without consulting [the] aged care sector, community, pharmacies and patient groups and having these unintended consequences is not a good outcome,” he said.
“The true costs of that service have been absorbed through the pharmacies and funded through dispensing remuneration to make sure that patients get the right medicine, in the right dose, at the right time.
“But that’s at risk if we don’t get cheaper medicines the right way,” Mr Tassone said.
At a press conference on Monday, Health Minister Mark Butler returned serve, slamming the guild’s claims and its opposition to the mooted changes.
“The pharmacy lobby and the Liberal Party have tried to scare vulnerable aged care residents that they would have to pay extra because of this measure to save six million patients from having to get their prescription filled every single month,” Minister Butler said.
“This is a cynical scare campaign from the pharmacy lobby that should be rejected.
“We are determined to deliver this cheaper medicines reform for six million patients and we’re determined, also, to protect aged care residents in the same process.
The warning of unintended consequences comes as Minister Butler also announced that he would bring forward negotiations on the Eighth Community Pharmacy Agreement by 12 months.
The agreement, set to be struck between the government and the community pharmacy sector by mid-2024, will formalise compensation to pharmacies for dispensing medication and running other services, like organising dose administration aids and providing medication reviews.
Despite currently leading a concerted campaign to halt the introduction of new dispensation rules, the guild is expected to be signatories to the new agreement.
“I’ve heard the soundings from the Pharmacy Guild that we need to deliver that business certainty to pharmacies sooner than that,” Minister Butler said.
“We’re willing to sit down with the Guild now and start negotiations early to secure a new agreement, a new five-year agreement for the community pharmacy sector.”