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FiveAA Interview with Leon Byrner

Transcript of Minister for Health, Greg Hunt's FiveAA Interview with Leon Byrner regarding listing new medicine on the PBS and Medicare funding for MRI prostate tests.

The Hon Greg Hunt MP
Former Minister for Health and Aged Care

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Look, there’s some good news on the horizon and when we have good news I like to let you know. As you know, we’ve got this very good system in Australia which, even though there are people who criticise it, it is pretty much the envy of the world where a lot of medicines are much more accessible than almost any other country.

And these subsidies are terribly important. Now we’ve just spent, when I say we, the taxpayers, have just put in an extra $500 million to get a whole lot of new drugs on the PBS.

Let’s talk to Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt. Greg, thank you for sparing some time.


Good morning, Leon.


Let’s talk about the drug that’s been getting a lot of publicity and that’s the one that deals with the symptoms of irritable bowel. Tell us about this?


So the drug is called Stelara and there are about 80,000 Australians who have irritable bowel syndrome, the most prominent variant of that is called Crohn’s and colitis.

And that means that people can have immense pain in their intestines, they can have issues with diarrhoea, of bowel control, they have desperate need to go to the bathroom. And I met with patients yesterday who’d been on the trials for this drug and their lives were fully transformed.

There were tears, there was a sense that the pain, the risk of surgery, a bowel resection or an intestinal resection is such a major, invasive, risky operation. Brilliant surgeons can make a difference, but still it’s a huge impact on your life.

And so we’re listing this new drug, Stelara. It comes at a cost of about $370 million. There are other drugs which take the investment yesterday up to nearly half a billion.

But for an ordinary person, it would cost them $68,000, now it will cost them $38.80 or in most cases, $6.30 to access the drug. And nobody other than the very, very rare few could afford a medicine such as this.

Now, it will be available to everybody whom the doctors believe can be appropriately assisted by it and that’s the health system at its absolute best.

The researchers taking it through to the medicine. We struck a partnership with Medicines Australia which meant that we were able to fund and invest these sorts of drugs.

And yesterday, to meet the patients whose lives have been changed, to meet the wife of Darren and she was in tears and their little boy was in tears because they said, we’ve got dad back, we’ve got dad back.


Well that’s great news. There’s also a couple of other things before we move onto another subject and that is that there’s a leukaemia drug called Zydelig which also treats patients with certain kinds of leukaemia.


Yes. So that helps with lymphoma and what’s called a chronic lymphocytic leukaemia and these patients again you can imagine, lymphoma and leukaemia how serious their issues area really important drug.

That will all up be about $50 million. It’s not the money though, it’s being able to help patients with rare cancers. About 250 patients a year will be helped by these. It’s just this is the right drug for the rare condition and between $60,000 and $115,000 that nobody could normally afford.


Well that’s great news. While I’ve got you, I want to ask you about something that came up on the program a couple of days ago and that is, we all encourage everybody, whether it’s breast cancer or whether it’s cancer down lower for guys, that you get an MRI and find out where you stand and a number of callers made the point that getting a prostate reading or MRI you get virtually no Medicare help whatsoever. Why would that be?


So this is absolutely right and it’s more of a historic anomaly. So, the basic facts are you can get your MRI for breast cancer, and I’ve literally just come this second, three minutes ago, from the Bloomhill Cancer Clinic in Buderim which is taking care of people.

I met with somebody who had been through the whole MRI process for breast cancer, that’s covered. And at the moment, pelvic ultrasounds, prostate biopsies, CT scans of the pelvis which have all been the main and historic diagnostic tool for prostate have been covered.

MRIs have emerged and so they’re now being assessed. In the same way that we put new drugs on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme, we put new treatments and procedures on the Medicare Benefits Scheme and I’ve asked and this is being considered right now.

So it’s just a case of where the medical technology had got to, now it’s time to add and consider this. I’ve looked at it and thought well that’s a historic anomaly or exclusion, let’s address this and I’ve asked the Medicare services advisory committee, the one that does Medicare listings to look at exactly this question that you’ve raised.


Alright, thank you for that. And so you’ll get back to us when we have some sort of finality, won’t you?


Yeah. It takes a little bit of time …


I understand…


Because they do really serious medical analysis. But I would say the signs are promising.


Greg Hunt, thank you. That’s the Federal Health Minister. See it’s very handy. I’ve not had an MRI like that but many have and it was raised and I’m very happy to take these things to the decision makers and it seems as if you might actually be getting some good news which is pretty good.

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