Providing Better Access to Medicines

The Australian Government will help thousands of Australians to access newly subsidised medicines on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme and life saving drugs.

Page last updated: 12 May 2009

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12 May 2009

The Government will spend more than $8.2 billion on essential medicines in 2009-10, and thousands of Australians will be helped by being able to access newly subsidised medicines on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme and life saving drugs. This will help to improve the quality of life of many Australians, including those with debilitating and life threatening illnesses and conditions, such as cancer.

Establishment of a national Epidermolysis Bullosa dressing scheme for ‘cotton wool’ kids

A national, $16.4 million Epidermolysis Bullosa (EB) dressings program will substantially improve affordability and access to specialised bandages and dressings. EB is a rare disease characterised by extremely fragile skin.

More than 150 people, primarily children, suffer from EB, a condition which causes their skin to tear from even minor contact. Dressings can be extremely expensive, costing some patients with severe forms of the disease more than $5,000 per month.

Medicines for cancer

Bowel, kidney and breast cancer patients will be assisted by funding for three medicines:
  • Avastin® (Bevacizumab) is used for the treatment of bowel cancer, and has been shown to prolong life, control symptoms and maintain or improve quality of life. 1,710 additional people will benefit in the first full year of its listing on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS), costing $314.1 million over four years.
  • Herceptin® (Trastuzumab), used to treat late stage breast cancer, will continue to be subsidised under the Herceptin Program, at a cost of $168 million over four years. About 1,000 patients access the program, and without the subsidy the cost to them of the drug would be around $60,000 per year.
  • Sutent® (Sunitinib) will benefit more than 600 Australians living with kidney cancer. It has been shown to reduce the symptoms of the cancer and in many cases extend survival. Its listing on the PBS will cost $131.1 million over five years.

Enhancing the National Prescribing Service

The Government is expanding the work of the National Prescribing Service (NPS), further enhancing patient safety and quality of care. This will enable the NPS to continue to support the health professionals in safely and appropriately prescribing medicines.

The Government will spend $21 million over four years to conduct campaigns with health professionals to improve prescribing of medicines which may include antibiotics, anti-psychotics, pain killers and hypno-sedatives.

Maintaining the sustainability of the PBS

To maintain the sustainability of the PBS so that all Australians can have access to essential affordable medicines, the Government is implementing two initiatives.

Interchangeable medicines listed in the same therapeutic group on the PBS are priced on a methodology that uses the cheapest medicine in the group to price the other medicines. This ensures that taxpayers only pay on the basis of the lowest priced medicine, for medicines of similar safety and effectiveness.

The Government will extend the PBS reference pricing policy to remove an anomaly where some medicines are not currently included in this pricing methodology. This will remove an unfair price advantage and ensures fairness for all companies with medicines contained within the same therapeutic group. The initiative will save $61.2 million over four years.

The Government will also place two cholesterol lowering medicines – Atorvastatin calcium (Lipitor®) and Rosuvastatin calcium (Crestor®) – in a new therapeutic group. This will ensure that the price paid by the Government for these medicines is based on the price of the lowest priced medicine. This initiative will save about $113.8 million over four years.

While pharmaceutical companies may choose to charge a premium for these drugs, no patients need pay any extra if their doctor chooses to prescribe a clinically equivalent, cheaper alternative.

For all inquiries please contact the Minister's office – 02 6277 7220