Minister for Health and Aged Care - press conference - 1 September 2023

Read the transcript of Minister Butler's press conference on the commencement of 60-day prescriptions; 8th community pharmacy agreement; bulk billing; superannuation and paid parental leave.

The Hon Mark Butler MP
Minister for Health and Aged Care

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MINISTER FOR HEALTH AND AGED CARE, MARK BUTLER: We went to the last election promising cheaper medicines for Australians and today is a fantastic point of delivery for almost 4 million patients. From today, most patients will be able to ask their doctor for a 60-day prescription for their common medicine that they might be taking for a range of ongoing health conditions like high blood pressure, high cholesterol, heart disease, osteoporosis, and very many more. This effectively is two scripts for the price of one, halving the cost of these common medicines. It's good for their hip pocket, but it's also good for their health, we know that it will improve medication compliance by as much as 20 per cent. That's why pretty much every other country we compare ourselves to has already been doing this for many, many years. Good for the hip pocket, good for health, but it will also free up millions of consults for GPs who are currently occupied issuing routine, repeat scripts rather than dealing with more serious health conditions in the community. I'm really glad to be joined here at Harbour Medical Services with representatives of the College of General Practitioners - every doctors group has supported this measure - as well as representatives of the Consumers Health Forum and Arthritis Australia. And again, every patient group has supported this measure. This measure, delivering cheaper medicines, is an important cost of living measure that will improve the health of millions of Australian patients.
 
DR SIAN GOODSON, RACGP: I'm Dr Sian Goodson, I'm the Chair of the RACGP here in South Australia, and I’m really pleased to be part of this announcement today because this is great news for patients. Great for patients that don't have to go to the pharmacy every month, they can go every two months to collect their routine scripts, and it's going to save you money as well. We're really pleased to be supporting this.

JOURNALIST: Is this going to help GPs as well?

DR GOODSON: Yes, it will help GPs. As you know, it's hard to get on the day appointments. It's hard to get appointments with GPs quite often in South Australia at the moment. So, this is going to be really useful as we are not wasting appointments on routine scripts. Instead they can be used for other care for our patients.

JOURNALIST: What's the response from the pharmacy sector been like?
 
DR GOODSON: The pharmacies are less keen on this. But we're really keen to work with the pharmacists on this. We have very close working relationships with pharmacists within our communities, and we rely on each other for patient care and better outcomes for patients. So, we want to work with the pharmacies. I'm really encouraged that the Minister has promised to reinvest money saved from the scheme back into pharmacies.
 
JONATHON SMITHERS, CEO OF ARTHRITIS AUSTRALIA: It’s the 1st of September today and spring really has arrived for Australian consumers those with chronic health conditions. I want to thank the Minister for what is a big step forward. It looks like a small thing, but sixty-day dispensing will help every consumer with long term health conditions. It's just better for everyone.
 
JOURNALIST: There's been concerns about what this decision could mean for community pharmacies and their viability, are you sure this won’t cause pharmacies to close?
 
BUTLER: Community pharmacy has a really strong vibrant future in Australia. I've promised that every single dollar the Commonwealth saves from this measure will be reinvested back into community pharmacy, allowing them to deliver even more services to their customers. For example, from January, they will be able to deliver free vaccines under the National Immunisation Program, which up until now has been restricted to GPs. So there's a great future for community pharmacy in this country. I know that, I want that, and I'm determined to implement that.
 
JOURNALIST: Just on another topic, Minister, the Federal Greens are threatening to block the Government's proposed changes to superannuation tax concessions unless it also offers to pay super unpaid parental leave. Will the Government compromise?
 
BUTLER: Look, it's becoming increasingly difficult to distinguish, frankly, between the Greens Party and the Liberal Party. They seem to be determined to join up and say no to every sensible measure the Government tries to put through the parliament whether it's increased taxation on offshore gas developments, improving social and affordable housing through our Housing Australia Future Fund or now some sensible taxation arrangements for very high-income superannuation. This is an important reform measure that's been laid out by the government now for many, many months. I encourage the Greens to get behind it.
 
JOURNALIST: Pharmacies have suspended their campaign against the Government over the 60-day dispensing changes, because you've given a start date for new funding agreement with them. Has the government's hand been forced here and what will you do to ease the burden on pharmacies?
 
BUTLER: We've agreed to sit down and negotiate the next funding agreement for Community Pharmacy with pharmacy groups from today. We've been talking with them for some months now about arrangements for a new agreement to be struck. I'm glad that we're going to be able to do that. I’m confident that it will deliver some strong certainty for community pharmacy going forward. But I'm also delighted we've been able to carry through with the commitments we made to Australian patients to deliver cheaper medicines.
 
JOURNALIST: And latest bulk billing data shows bulk billing rates have declined since Labor took office. How do you explain that and what is the Government doing to reverse that trend?
 
BUTLER: Bulk billing has been coming down for some time now. I've been talking about this since well before we were elected to government. It's a direct product of a Medicare rebate freeze that went for several years that was introduced by Peter Dutton when he was Health Minister. In the May Budget, we tripled the bulk billing incentive and that will take effect from the 1st of November. That was described by doctors as a “game changer” and I'm confident it will have a very serious impact on bulk billing rates. Thanks very much.

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