ScoMo backflips on plan for cheaper drugs
PATIENTS with chronic illnesses will miss out on savings from secret plans to double the size of prescriptions after the Morrison government caved in to demands from the powerful pharmacy lobby on the eve of the pre-election Budget.
The proposal, which was recommended by the independent Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee, would have allowed doctors to prescribe medicine packs that cover two months' drugs instead of the current one month limit.
Patients who need regular medication for conditions like high cholesterol, high blood pressure and glaucoma would have seen their costs slashed under the plan.
But the Pharmacy Guild of Australia, which is one of the wealthiest lobby groups in the country, mounted a furious effort to stop the measures being included in the Budget next week.
Declaring pharmacists were "currently in dispute with the government", Guild president George Tambassis wrote to his members to warn the "sweeping changes … would have a devastating impact on the viability of community pharmacy businesses across Australia".
"This would be a retrograde step which would put quantity ahead of quality use of medicines, triggering much lower medication adherence rates among patients with chronic illnesses, leading ultimately to higher health costs," he said in the private circular.
"Profitability of many pharmacies would have been effectively halved, sending them to the wall, with mass loss of jobs and displacement of vital patient services."
Doctors, however, have accused the pharmacy lobby of trying to profiteer off vulnerable patients.
Australian Medical Association president Tony Bartone accused pharmacists of "putting profits ahead of patients".
In the combative letter, Mr Tambassis demanded the government guarantee dispensing fees and commit in writing to consult them before any other changes.
He also called for the government to shave $1 off the PBS co-payment to save pharmacists who have to wear the cost if they currently offer this discount.
Mr Tambassis wrote to Scott Morrison and Treasurer Josh Frydenberg last Friday demanding they dump the changes.
Government sources confirmed the measures would not be included in the Budget to be handed down on Tuesday.
Health Minister Greg Hunt's spokeswoman confirmed the government was considering the changes but was "not proposing to change medicines pack sizes at this stage".