Minister for Health and Aged Care - press conference - 6 April 2023

Read the transcript for Minister Butler's press conference on Trikafta; and Medicare compliance

The Hon Mark Butler MP
Minister for Health and Aged Care

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MINISTER FOR HEALTH AND AGED CARE, MARK BUTLER: Thanks everyone for coming this morning. This is such an exciting day for the cystic fibrosis community here in Australia, and I just want to pay tribute to all of the families and CF Australia and Jo in particular, for their persistent, relentless advocacy for a better future for all Australians living with cystic fibrosis, but particularly today, thinking about our youngest patients aged six to 11. Trikafta is one of those amazing medicines that doesn't just make life a little bit better, but it transforms life. The daily living activities of patients with cystic fibrosis is transformed by this single medicine. It will also add decades to life expectancy. And we've seen that with the patients aged 12 and over - so adults and adolescents - who have been on this medicine now for a year or two, seeing their lives transformed, not having to do the daily physio, not having to take dozens and dozens of tablets each and every day, but most importantly, able to look forward to a long, healthy and happy life. Today, I'm delighted to announce that for six to 11-year-olds with cystic fibrosis, as well, Trikafta will be listed on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme from the 1st of May. And what that will mean is that the cost of this life changing, lifesaving medicine will come down from something like $22,000 per month, obviously beyond the means of pretty much every single family in Australia, to just $30 a month. From $22,000 down to $30 a month. Obviously, a life changing decision for the Australian community. I really want to thank particularly the cystic fibrosis community, those families have been working so hard to lift awareness, consciousness, advocating for this listing through Cystic Fibrosis Australia, but themselves working on Facebook pages, talking to the media, telling their stories of the daily lives of their children suffering from this condition, and what they hope for their children's future for years and decades to come. I really want to thank them. I also want to thank Vertex for the way in which they've worked with our officials to make sure that we've been able to action the recommendation that we received last month – only last month – from the Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee to make sure that the decision that was taken or the advice received from them several weeks ago, was able to actually start making a difference from the 1st of May. And they've worked really hard in good faith to do that as quickly as they possibly could. And I want to thank my colleagues I’m here with today, Ryan Park the new Minister for Health here in New South Wales, who I’ll ask to say a few words. But Mike Freelander the Member for Macarthur in the southwest of Sydney, a well-known paediatrician who's been working with this condition for decades and decades and has seen the slow, but steady, improvement in treatments for children, particularly, living with this condition. And just understand the step change nature of giving access to this wonderful new drug Trikafta. And also, Gordon Reid a new Member in the Central Coast, a qualified emergency physician who's driven down from the Central Coast to join this wonderful event. I'm happy to take questions about this or anything else you have. But before that, I might just ask new Minister Ryan Park to say a few words and then Jo from CF Australia, as well.  

RYAN PARK, NSW MINISTER FOR HEALTH: Thank you, Minister. And thank you very much to CF Australia for your incredible advocacy. I can't begin to imagine, as a parent of two young boys, the sort of strain and pressure that this condition has had on family members. Just speaking with you this morning. I can see and feel and hear just the joy that you have, that all of us would have, that we've finally been able to get a drug that is affordable, but more importantly, that is game changing for your children. I want to thank Minister Butler who has been an incredible advocate. Arguably, our best Federal Health Minister ever. He's a wonderful champion for health across this country. And I mean that sincerely. He works so closely with the states. He's been a terrific friend of mine. He's been a champion and an advocate for better public health across this country, but including in New South Wales, and today demonstrates that yet again. We've got a federal government in Canberra that really gives a damn about life changing decisions for families and their health care right across New South Wales, but right across this country. Particularly thanks to Jo and CF Australia. These things don't just happen. They happen because families and organisations stand up and advocate strongly and directly and passionately. And that's what they should do. That's what all of us would do, if it was our own children. And I want to thank them sincerely for that advocacy. And of course, to Mike and Gordon, it is fantastic to have two elected representatives who are passionate about public health and health care in New South Wales, in our federal caucus. Today is a great day. It's a great day for families. It's a great day for young people with CF, but it's a great day for our community because this drug will change the lives of so many, and they'll be able to have a lot longer, a lot more productive, healthy lives. And that's good for everybody. 

JO ARMSTRONG, CEO OF CYSTIC FIBROSIS AUSTRALIA: Good morning, everybody. Jo Armstrong, the CEO of Cystic Fibrosis Australia, cystic fibrosis is a genetic condition that is life limiting. Every four days a baby is born in Australia with cystic fibrosis. That's one in every 2,500 babies and toddlers. There is no cure for cystic fibrosis. But today we have the great news that the life changing medication Trikafta will be made available from the 1st of May for children aged six to 11. A huge thank you to the Minister and the Department of Health, and Vertex Pharmaceuticals for making this available. The CF community has been campaigning tirelessly this year - for Trikafta to be made available and subsidised so that the families can afford it. And now we have the great news, as a community we can celebrate: our voices have been heard. And we are able to now celebrate that 500 Aussie kids will now have the opportunity to live healthier, longer lives. Thank you to everybody in the cystic fibrosis community and everyone who has campaigned in support for it. We are absolutely delighted, it is a huge progress for the community more broadly. It's not a cure, but it's a great step in the right direction. 

DR BERNADETTE PRENTICE, PEDIATRIC RESPIRATORY PHYSICIAN: Thank you to the Minister for inviting me here today. I'm a CF paediatrician at Sydney Children's Hospital. And I know that this is an absolute game changer for our children with CF, if they carry the right mutation. We know that this medication improves lung function and improves nutrition, it keeps them out of hospital, it stops them getting recurrent infections. But what does that mean for our children with CF? It means more time with their friends, more time at school, more time with their family, and putting CF in the background so that they can live their best lives and do the things that matter most to them. So, this is an absolutely incredible decision for our patients with CF. Thank you. 

JOURNALIST: Minister, just about the affordability and the cost-of-living pressures, how much will this decision impact those families who are dealing with cystic fibrosis?  

MINISTER BUTLER: We came to government promising cheaper medicines, we've made a range of decisions that lower the cost of medicines across the board, really, including the biggest cut to the price of medicines in the 75-year history of the PBS, which came into effect on the 1st of January. But we've also listed now more than 75 new or expanded medicine entitlements on the PBS just since July, this is only the latest of them. And this gives access to families to medicines that are life changing, life saving, but frankly without being listed on the PBS would be completely unaffordable to average families. And that's what this does. As I said, this medicine without being listed on the PBS would cost about $22,000 every single month for families. And people need it month after month after month, obviously simply unaffordable for families, but this will cost them now no more than $30 a month with the reduced price that we put into effect from the first of January. 

JOURNALIST: Just on the PBS, so there's a couple of proposals addressing the cost-of-living pressures everyone's facing. One of them is to reduce that co-payment you contribute on PBS, another is from doctors with the number of medicines and packages to be extended on the script. Are you considering any of those?  

BUTLER: I'm not going to get into speculation about the Budget which will be delivered in more than four weeks’ time, I think, in early May. But we're always on the lookout for other ways in which we can lower the price of medicines. As I said, we cut the maximum amount pensioners and concession cardholders will pay across a given year by 25% last July. We’ve lowered the price of hundreds and hundreds of brands and medicines over the last several months. And we made the biggest cut to the price of medicines on the 1st of January. So we've already done a lot to deliver on the promise we made to make medicines cheaper for Australians at the last election. But we are on the lookout for other ways in which we can relieve that cost-of-living pressure. We know that lowering the cost of medicines is not just good for families’ hip pocket, which it obviously is, it's also good for their health. The Australian Bureau of Statistics tells us that every year, hundreds and hundreds of thousands of Australians go without medicines that their doctor has prescribed for them, because they simply can't afford it. Pharmacists tell me stories about patients or customers coming in with a number of different scripts that their family might need and asking for advice about which script I can go without, or defer until the next month, because of the cost-of-living pressure. So we're always on the lookout for good ideas to continue driving down the cost of medicines. We know it's good for household budgets, but perhaps even more important, we know it's good for the health of Australians. 

JOURNALIST: Just one on the Medicare review. So today on television this morning you said there are a number of recommendations that can be implemented quickly. What are those and how quickly will we see those? 

BUTLER: We're going through the report now, in detail. It is a substantial report with a couple of dozen recommendations. As I said this morning, some of them, you know, obviously require a government decision to support them, but would be relatively easy to enact. Others are very substantial recommendations in terms of their scale. So we're going through the report, page by page, recommendation by recommendation. We will then obviously want to have discussions with groups in the health sector: patient groups, doctors’ groups and the like, and then we'll issue a response in due course. Thanks everyone. 

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