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Credit: Christina Victoria Craft

Health organisations rally for 60-day medication dispensing

Consumer and health organisations and doctors have joined forces to call on Members of Parliament (MPs) and Senators to prioritise consumers and support the implementation of 60-day dispensing in Australia. This initiative aims to save both time and money for Australians seeking medical assistance.

In an open letter addressed to all federal parliamentarians, eight prominent organisations representing health consumers, including those from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities as well as multicultural backgrounds, have expressed their support for the proposed reforms.

Under the suggested changes, pharmacists would be authorised to dispense up to 60 days’ worth of medication for over 320 medicines used to treat stable conditions listed on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme. However, such dispensing would only occur if deemed safe and appropriate by a patient’s general practitioner (GP).

The open letter emphasises the significance of placing health consumers at the forefront and urges MPs and Senators to endorse the reforms. It highlights this measure’s positive impact on Australians, especially those who are more vulnerable.

What happened?

Health Minister Mark Butler has proposed a significant change in Australia’s healthcare system by advocating for doctors to have the authority to issue prescriptions for 60-day supplies of 320 medicines commonly used to treat chronic medical conditions. This reform aims to improve convenience and efficiency for patients managing long-term health issues, including heart disease, cholesterol problems, Crohn’s disease, and hypertension.

Currently, patients are limited to 30-day supplies, necessitating more frequent doctor and pharmacist visits than necessary. The proposed extension of prescription supply would alleviate the burden on patients, reducing the need for frequent appointments and allowing them to access their medications for a more extended period.

While this change would greatly benefit patients, it has raised concerns among some pharmacies due to potential revenue loss. Pharmacies receive a fee each time they provide medicine, and their revenue could be affected with fewer visits. Additionally, the sales of ancillary products such as hairbrushes and skin creams may also be impacted by the reduced foot traffic resulting from fewer pharmacy visits.

The open letter highlights the significant benefits that would arise from implementing the proposed reforms. It estimates that approximately 6 million individuals with chronic conditions, including a significant number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander individuals and those from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds, would experience positive outcomes. These groups often face a higher prevalence of chronic ailments, making the reform particularly impactful for them.

One of the key advantages for consumers is the potential for substantial cost savings. The reform could result in annual savings of up to $180 per individual, with even greater savings for those who take multiple medications. By reducing the need for frequent visits to collect medicines and obtain repeat prescriptions, consumers would save not only money but also valuable time. Additionally, this change would alleviate the strain on GP appointments, allowing healthcare providers to attend to other patients more efficiently.

Implementing 60-day medicine dispensing would also bring Australia in line with other high-income countries like New Zealand, the United States, and Canada. Citizens in these countries already enjoy access to multiple months’ worth of medication on a single prescription, further underscoring the need for Australia to adopt a similar approach.

The proposed reform holds particular significance for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander individuals who experience a disproportionate burden of chronic diseases. Numerous studies have demonstrated the positive impact of reducing medical costs for this population, thus improving system equity and addressing health disparities.

Furthermore, the recommendation to implement 60-day dispensing aligns with the independent Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee (PBAC). The PBAC has dismissed claims that the change would lead to medication shortages, lending further credibility to the proposal.

What experts are saying 

Royal Australian College of GPs President Dr Nicole Higgins: “60-day dispensing is a win for Australians, particularly those with chronic conditions, and those who are more vulnerable and battling cost-of-living pressures. I urge MPs and Senators to ignore the scare campaigns and support these changes, there has never been a more important time to save patients money and time.” 

National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisations Acting CEO Dr Dawn Casey: “We welcome this measure that will help ease the cost pressures for purchasing medicines for so many of our people. It can halve the annual cost of people’s medicines, which is a truly significant impact. In reducing the number of times people must attend a pharmacy for each of the chronic medicines, it will also greatly improve convenience for patients and further add to the value of the measure, especially when considering accessibility of some pharmacies and current cost of transport.”   

Asthma Australia CEO Michele Goldman: “We have one of the highest rates of asthma in the developed world. The double dispensing savings for people with stable asthma will reduce out-of-pocket costs, GP and pharmacy visits and associated costs, and the likelihood of patients missing or rationing their medicine at the end of each month because they can’t afford another prescription.” 

Lung Foundation Australia CEO Mark Brooke:  “For millions of Australians and their loved ones who live with lung disease, this change means cheaper medicine, less unnecessary trips to the GP – freeing up the incredibly overburdened system, and less time for immunosuppressed people spent in crowded waiting areas. From our community’s perspective, those with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) will be immediately affected, and for patients with stable chronic conditions it also reduces their risk of missing medication dosages at the end of the month when their script runs out. Australia is finally being brought up to the same standards as the New Zealand, Canada, US and Europe, and this shift is frankly overdue.”  

The Australian College of Nurse Practitioners CEO Leanne Boase:  “The Australian College of Nurse Practitioners supports 60-day dispensing in the interests of improving access to good health. Many Australians struggle to access a prescriber for repeat prescriptions, and 60-day dispensing will free up more appointments, improving access to timely primary health care. Where medicines are long term, especially in relation to stable chronic disease, significant savings for consumers in both cost and time can be made, as well as redirecting more health care dollars towards improving health outcomes. We are confident the Australian Government is acting in the best interests of the public, through better access to medicines, more accessible primary care, and in support of essential pharmacy services.”  

Breast Cancer Network Australia Director Policy, Advocacy & Support Services Vicki Durston: “Those with cancer are often required to take medication, particularly hormone-blocking therapies, for a long period of time that can extend five to ten years past their diagnosis. Breast Cancer Network Australia stands with RACGP in supporting 60-day dispensing to not only help reduce this financial burden on top of the already significant cost of a cancer diagnosis, but to also help alleviate pressure on the primary health system and allow GPs to continue to give vital care and support to those who need it.”  

Australian Multicultural Health Collaborative Co-Chair Marina Chand: “The change to 60-day medicine dispensing will benefit culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) Australians in particular, as we know our CALD communities have a higher prevalence of chronic disease. The savings on dispensing fees – $180 a year and even more for people taking multiple medicines – will make a real difference for people and families in the current environment, with cost-of-living pressures increasing and pushing more people into hardship.”

Australian Medical Association President Professor Steve Robson: “The government’s changes are safe and supported by clear recommendations from the independent Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee (PBAC), including the requirement to ensure that only patients assessed as clinically suitable by a doctor are eligible.”

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Yajush Gupta

Yajush Gupta

Yajush is a journalist at Dynamic Business. He previously worked with Reuters as a business correspondent and holds a postgrad degree in print journalism.

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