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Gee paints grim picture for Orange chemists over 60-day prescriptions

April 27, 2023

By Peter Holmes

Independent Calare MP Andrew Gee says his “phone has been ringing off the hook with local pharmacists” over the federal Labor government’s announcement of a significant change to the way prescription medications are dispensed.

People using one or more medicines from a list of over 300 will soon be able to collect 60 days worth of scripts in one go, instead of a 28-day or 30-day supply.

They will pay the same amount for a 60-day supply as they are currently paying for 28 or 30 days.

Pharmacists are furious with the changes, slated to come into effect in September.

National president of the Pharmacy Guild of Australia, professor Trent Twomey, said millions of patients would be worse off due to “guaranteed medicine shortages across the country”.

“If the federal government proceeds with this proposal, everyday prescription medicine will be put into severe shortages lasting months, not days or weeks,” Twomey said.

Twomey said he was “very concerned for Australian patients and big shortages will hit common medicines that treat cholesterol, blood pressure, diabetes, depression, anxiety, epilepsy and Parkinson’s disease to name just a few”.

Gee argued that the new system would “exacerbate drug shortages, force pharmacy owners to cut services, lay off staff or close their doors entirely, and may endanger the lives of vulnerable patients”.

He said pharmacists were “distressed that very vulnerable patients will now have access to double their usual supply of certain drugs. They believe that this could have tragic outcomes for some vulnerable members of the community”.

However the president of the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners, Dr Nicole Higgins, said people should “beware of scare campaigns”.

“This is a win for patients,” she said. “Cost of living pressures are placing tremendous strain on households across Australia, so there has never been a more important time to save patients money and time.

“Patients with a range of chronic conditions including heart disease will be able to save up to $180 a year and that will make a huge difference for so many households.”

She said that in 2018 the Pharmacy Benefits Advisory Committee recommended increasing the maximum dispensed quantities of common medications from one to two months’ supply. The previous Coalition government did not follow the recommendations.

“This change has been recommended because it is in the best interests of patients, and I am pleased that the government has heeded the expert advice,” Higgins said.

Andrew Gee urged Labor to rethink its policy, pointing to shortages of medicines during Covid.

“Our pharmacists are concerned that while on the face of it the new policy looks okay and sounds positive, it’s really exposing vulnerable patients to harm, putting more pressure on our hardworking pharmacists, increasing drug shortages, and forcing people to go without their regular medications,” he said.

“When you strip it all back, this policy change is the government basically taking money from pharmacists to make some marginal budget savings. The government is cutting the number of prescription fees it pays to local pharmacies.

“The problem for country pharmacies is that only a relatively small amount of their revenue comes from the retail side, as their businesses heavily rely on filling prescriptions. As a result, this change will have a devastating impact on the services that our local pharmacists provide.”

Gee predicted that pharmacies would have to consider cutting staff, slashing services to aged care facilities and stopping home delivery.

“The impacts are going to be felt keenly in country communities which have fewer pharmacies compared to city areas. For some smaller pharmacies, this policy change will threaten their very existence.”

The Pharmacy Guild's information sheet on 7CPA.

Under what is known as 7CPA (the seventh Community Pharmacy Agreement), which runs to 2025, the government pays pharmacies a fee for dispensing prescriptions.

“The 7CPA involves a way to ensure stable payment for pharmacists dispensing PBS and Repatriation Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (RPBS) medicines,” the federal government states.

“If the number of PBS and RPBS medicines dispensed in any one period differs significantly from what was estimated, fees paid to pharmacies are adjusted for the next period.

“This is to ensure pharmacies have stable income from dispensing PBS and RPBS medicines. It also protects the Australian Government from unexpected expense.”

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