A last-ditch move to block six million Aussies from accessing half-price scripts has been lashed by the Health Minister.
The Coalition on Wednesday announced it would move a disallowance motion in the Senate unless the Albanese government pressed pause on the policy.
Mark Butler aired his frustration with the push to tear up the changes, due to come into effect from September 1, during a media blitz on Thursday morning.
“This is a critically important cost-of-living measure,” he told Seven.
“It’s also good for their health. We know that 60-day prescriptions, which are common around the world for ongoing chronic health conditions, improve medication compliance.
“There is also the ability to free up millions of GP consults, which we know are desperately needed out in the community.
“That’s why this measure is supported by every patient and doctors group. It has been opposed by the powerful pharmacy lobby for five years when it was first recommended by those who manage the pharmaceutical benefits scheme.
“The Senate has a choice this morning.”
The reform would allow doctors to issue prescriptions for 60-day supplies, up from 30 days, of around 320 medicines used to treat long-term medical conditions.
But the policy has faced fierce backlash from the powerful Pharmacy Guild of Australia, which claims it will put pharmacies out of business and cause mass job losses.
Opposition finance spokesman Jane Hume said the Coalition supported cheaper scripts but claimed the government had botched consultation with pharmacies.
“We want cheaper pharmaceuticals and we also support 60-day dispensing, particularly as a cost of living measure,” she told the Today show.
Senator Hume said Labor must go back to the drawing board due to the “risk” that some of Australia’s most vulnerable will not have access to medicines.
But Mr Butler insisted “every single dollar” of Commonwealth savings from dispensing fees would be funnelled back into community pharmacy.
He said the reinvestment would be funnelled back into smaller rural pharmacies that depend on the dispensing income.
“We think that the community pharmacy sector can remain very viable,” he told Seven.
“The number of applications for new pharmacies has not dropped off in the three months since I announced this measure, so obviously someone out there thinks there is still money to be made in pharmacy.”
One Nation’s two senators and independent senator David Van support the block, while the Greens will back Labor.
For the motion to be successful, the Coalition will need to win the support of the five remaining crossbenchers.