Minister for Health and Aged Care – interview on Sunrise – 1 September 2023

Read the transcript of Minister Butler's interview with Matt Shirvington and Natalie Barr about 60-day prescriptions.

The Hon Mark Butler MP
Minister for Health and Aged Care

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HOST, MATT SHIRVINGTON: The government's 60-day prescription policy comes into effect today, meaning people will be able to buy two months’ worth of common medications for the price of one.

HOST, NATALIE BARR: While it means massive savings for those with chronic illnesses, pharmacies say the change will lead to chemist shutdowns and job losses. For more, we're joined by Health Minister Mark Butler. Good morning to you. Tell us how much the average person in Australia is going to save on their prescriptions.

MINISTER FOR HEALTH AND AGED CARE, MARK BUTLER: This is a great day for patients. Almost 4 million patients from today will be able to ask their doctor for a 60-day script for their common medicines for ongoing health conditions like high blood pressure, heart disease, high cholesterol, osteoporosis and many others. These are medicines people are often on for decades or even the rest of their lives. Not single, short courses of medicines, but ongoing medicines. And up until now, they've had to go back to the GP regularly, to the pharmacy, every month. Now they'll get two scripts for the price of one, effectively halving the cost of their medicines, as well as fewer visits to the GP and fewer visits to the pharmacy. This is why it's been so strongly supported by doctors’ groups and every single patient group, because they understand it's good for hip pockets, it's good for people's health – because it improves medication compliance – and it frees up millions of GP consults that your viewers know are desperately needed out there and at the moment are clogged up with these consults just to issue routine, repeat scripts.

SHIRVINTON: Yeah, there's without a doubt benefits, especially for those using medications. Pharmacies, though, they're not happy. Some of them saying that the new policy will lead to medicine shortages, increased prices and forced some chemists to close. What do you say to them?

BUTLER: Look, these important hard changes are often difficult to get through. I understand there's been lobbying about this, but I've called out these scare campaigns. I mean, the idea of medicine shortages has been completely debunked by the authorities that are set up by law to oversee the security of supply of our medicines. And frankly, it doesn't make sense. At the end of the day, this isn't changing the number of tablets that are issued over a three or a six-month period. It's just meaning people don't have to visit the pharmacy as often and shell out money over the counter. Also, I'm very confident pharmacy has a strong, vibrant future. We're reinvesting every single dollar that we save as a Commonwealth Government back into pharmacy services. For example, from January next year, the National Immunisation Programme – all those vaccines – you'll be able to get them at a pharmacy, free of charge. Up until now, you've only been able to get them at a GP. So I think pharmacy has a strong, vibrant future delivering even more services to their local patients.

BARR: But I mean they say they get what, $10 or something per script, so they're going to lose out and some of them are going to close. What about the claim that to compensate for this, they're putting up the prices of other drugs in their pharmacy? Are you hearing that?

BUTLER: Look, I've heard a range of different scare campaigns from the pharmacy. Let's put this in context...

BARR: But are you going to look into that? Because that's quite serious.

BUTLER: We're looking into everything. For example, we heard some scare campaign a couple of weeks ago that they were going to start charging aged care residents for their Webster packs – the packaging of their medicines. I made clear that is not permitted legally. Aged care facilities are funded for that service. The principles make it clear that they are prohibited from charging aged care residents for that service. So, look, there's been any number of different scare campaigns through this period. What I want to do now is bed this down for patients. It's in their interests. It's in the interests of the health system. We now have to sit down with the pharmacy sector and plan for their future. I know it's going to be a strong and vibrant one.

SHIRVINGTON: Yep. Health Minister, thanks for joining us.

BUTLER: My pleasure.


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