Radio interview with Minister Butler and Matthew Pantelis, FIVEaa Mornings - 1 September 2023

Read the transcript of Minister Butler's interview with Matthew Pantelis on the commencement of 60-day prescriptions

The Hon Mark Butler MP
Minister for Health and Aged Care

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MATTHEW PANTELIS, HOST: From today, people will be able to start accessing 60 days’ worth of medicine. When you go to the chemist, you'll be able to provide - doctors will be able to provide - one prescription for 12 months for some patients, reducing the number of times you'll need to visit the GP, which is a good move. Pharmacists, though, not so happy, they're planning a rally next week in Canberra to protest this because they see it as less revenue ultimately in terms of what they get back from the government on scripts. Let's talk about all of this with the Health Minister - the Federal Health Minister, Mark Butler who is on the line. Minister, good morning.
PANTELIS: This does represent savings for patients, no doubt about it.
BUTLER: Huge savings for almost 4 million patients who are on about 100 common medicines for ongoing health conditions like high blood pressure, high cholesterol, if they have heart disease, osteoporosis a range of other conditions. They will now be able to get a 60-day script with the agreement of their doctor, which means two scripts for the price of one, halving the cost of their medicines and as you said in your intro, far fewer visits to the doctor and to the pharmacy. This is going to free up millions of GP consults which are desperately needed out there, I'm sure your listeners are only too familiar with the waiting times now to get in to see a GP. Instead of GP's having to see people for routine repeat scripts, now, they'll be able to help clear those waiting lists. So, it's good for patients’ hip pockets, it's good for their health, because we know from overseas evidence longer scripts increases medication compliance – so it's good for their health individually. But it's good for the health system too, which is why every doctors group and every patient group has strongly supported this measure.
PANTELIS: Well, the AMA is in favour, but pharmacies are not and are rallying. So, the issues there, I mean, we've heard some doom and gloom that pharmacies may close, that they'll go by the wayside. I'm sure you've modelled this, the department would have modelled this to test out the veracity of those claims. Are they right, though? Could pharmacies close? Could we have fewer as a result of these changes?
BUTLER: We’ve heard these scare campaigns earlier. We're very confident that this sector has a strong, vibrant future. It's highly profitable. Their own report that they released only a couple of months ago showed that their average gross profit was about 34%, I can't think of another part of the private medical services industry that has a profit that high. And this impact on their revenue is not nothing, but it's pretty modest. We model it as somewhere between 1 and 2% of their revenue over the next four years. They grew by 30% over the last four years, so there will be a very modest impact. But the Commonwealth Government is reinvesting every single dollar that we save from this measure back into community pharmacy to help support them deliver additional services like for example, the National Immunisation Program, all those vaccinations which up until now have been restricted to doctors delivering them. You'll be able to get them free of charge at pharmacists from January. So, this is a really important measure. I don't pretend that these big changes are ever easy. There are often strong campaigns from lobby groups, but I'm determined to do this for patients. This is very common around the world in almost every country we usually compare ourselves to. And it was first recommended by the medicines authority five years ago to the former government, but they chose not to implement it. They chose the interests of the pharmacy lobby over the interests of patients. We're not going to do that.
PANTELIS: So, this is for people, as you mentioned, a range of illnesses, cardiovascular, Crohn's, gout, heart failure, high cholesterol, hypertension and a few others. But it's only stage one. You're going to roll out more, I understand, over the next year or so?
BUTLER: That's right. There's 100 medicines that go on the list today, another 100 or so in March next year and another 100 in September next year. These were all medicines recommended to the government by the medicines authority that oversees the operation and the management of our terrific Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme. So, they considered these carefully. Remember, Matthew, these are medicines that people aren't prescribed for a short period of time to deal with a single episode of illness. These are medicines that people are on for years and years or even decades or the rest of their lives. So, it just doesn't make sense to require them to go back to GP's and to the pharmacist as often as they have been and make a payment every time they do it. That's why pretty much every other country does this.
PANTELIS: Yeah, and that's the thing. So, we've been a long way behind other similar countries with, you know, good health systems and we're playing catch up, aren't we?
BUTLER: That's right. This is all part of our agenda of modernising our Medicare and our medicines system just to reflect the fact that patient need today is very different to what it was 40 years ago when we were building Medicare. Now increasingly people have ongoing health conditions rather than the single episode of illness that may be 40 years ago you went to see a doctor for, because you fell off the ladder or you had a bout of infectious disease. Increasingly, people are requiring ongoing management, they're on medicines as I said, for years, if not decades. And we need to make sure that the Medicare and the medicines system reflect that new reality. That's why we're so determined to strengthen Medicare and to deliver cheaper medicines.
PANTELIS: If you find through the modelling is wrong over time, would you look at compensation for pharmacies?
BUTLER: Look we're very confident they've got a strong, vibrant future. Just for your listeners interest to open a new pharmacy, you have to make an application to the Federal Government. And since I announced this measure about three months ago, I've received twice as many applications to open new pharmacies as we did the same time last year or the same time the year before. So clearly out there, in spite of all of the scare campaigns that we've heard about over the last few months, clearly out there, people think that pharmacy is still a strong, profitable industry. And I agree with that. That's why we're so committed to reinvesting every dollar into even more services being able to be delivered by your local pharmacy.
PANTELIS: What do you make of pharmacy saying that the free services they offer today, blood pressure checks and a range of other things in the wellness stakes they're going to start charging for those. Any thoughts on that?
BUTLER: These are private businesses They make these decisions. They're not funded for some of this stuff from the government. For a whole lot of services they are funded by the government for, they'll be expected to continue to deliver those services. But where they offer private services, pharmacy businesses will make their own decisions about this. And obviously I encourage customers to shop around and get the best possible deal you can from your local pharmacist. But as I say, this is a very modest impact on a highly profitable industry: 34% average gross profit. It's a measure that's very much in the interests of pharmacy customers, certainly in the interests of their health, because it will improve their medication compliance and it frees up millions of GP consults that we desperately need freed up in the system.
PANTELIS: All right, Minister, really appreciate your time this morning. Thank you.
BUTLER: Thanks, Matthew.


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