HOST, SARAH ABO: Well, 6 million Australians could lose their access to half price scripts from next month after a controversial move by the coalition to block the 60-day dispensing plan in the Senate. We're joined now by Health Minister Mark Butler in Canberra. Mark, thanks so much for your time this morning. You want to get this up by September 1st. Will that still happen?
MINISTER FOR HEALTH AND AGED CARE, MARK BUTLER: Well, that's a choice for the Senate this morning, Sarah. A choice between backing the interests of 6 million patients to halve their medicine costs, also to free up millions of consults, which your viewers know are desperately needed out there. And also to improve medication compliance: from overseas evidence we know that longer scripts, 60-day scripts, improve medication compliance and so improve people's health. It's a very clear choice for the Senate: back all of that, which is supported by every patient group in the country, every doctors’ group or back the Coalition and the pharmacy lobby, which have been blocking this measure for five years, since it was first recommended by the medicines experts who run our scheme.
ABO: Yeah, we know the Pharmacy Guild has been very vocal on this. I mean, you're arguing that this will be a help to the cost-of-living pressures on everyday Australians, whereas the Opposition says you should heed the warning of pharmacies instead - mostly those in the regions who are concerned they may be forced to close down because they won't be able to make up that financial shortfall. I mean Peter Dutton's saying the Government should step in here and provide that financial assistance. You don't agree?
BUTLER: We're doing that. I committed when I announced this measure, months ago, to reinvest every single dollar that the Commonwealth saves from this measure about $1.2 billion. We're particularly focused in that reinvestment on smaller rural pharmacies who tend to rely more on that dispensing income from medicines than on sort of general retail selling perfumes and the like. So I've done that. I've held to the commitment I made. Every single dollar is being reinvested. On top of that, we're investing an additional $350 million into pharmacies to help with their services into the aged care sector. So really the time now is for a choice to be made: between the powerful pharmacy lobby that's been trying to block this for years, with the help of the Coalition, or the interests of 6 million patients - a very important hip pocket measure that will also free up millions of GP consults that we know are desperately needed out there.
ABO: So you're calling the pharmacies bluff here. You don't think they'll be impacted, particularly in those regional areas?
BUTLER: We've thought about this reinvestment very carefully. I've talked to many people over the last few months, including crossbench members of the House of Reps and the Senate, who are focused on making sure that rural pharmacy is strong, is viable, is vibrant, is continuing to provide those services I'm confident this is the right thing for the country and it's time for the Senate to make a choice this morning.
ABO: All right. Well, it looks like it might come down to a few crossbenchers today, so we'll see how that plays out. Mark, thanks so much for coming on the show this morning.