Radio interview with Minister Butler and Patricia Karvelas, ABC RN Breakfast - 1 September 2023

Read the transcript of Minister Butler's interview with Patricia Karvelas on 60-day prescriptions; vaping.

The Hon Mark Butler MP
Minister for Health and Aged Care

Media event date:
Date published:
Media type:
General public

HOST, PATRICIA KARVELAS: It was touted as one of the government's cost of living measures: to halve the cost of getting a script from your local pharmacy. But since the announcement 60-day dispensing changes - which came into effect today - pharmacies have warned it will lead to mass job losses and ultimately cost consumers hundreds of dollars a year more. Mark Butler is the Minister for Health and Aged Care. He's our guest this morning. Minister, welcome.




KARVELAS: “Pretty desperate scare campaigns” is how you've described that strong pushback from the Pharmacy Guild that you've received. But what will you do if jobs are lost?


BUTLER: This is a great day for patients, I have to say, first of all. Almost 4 million patients will now be able to ask their doctor for a 60-day script. This is a measure that's been strongly supported by every doctor group, but most importantly, every patient group, because they understand it's good for their hip pocket, it's good for their health, because overseas evidence tells us that it improves medication compliance by as much as 20%. So, good for their individual health and it will also free up millions of GP consults that your listeners know are desperately needed out there for real health conditions, instead of GPs being busy issuing routine, repeat scripts. So this is a measure we're determined to push through. We're confident it's good for patients, for the health and for the health system. But we know that these changes, these big changes are never easy. There are often scare campaigns that lobby groups will throw up in the public debate, but we're confident the community pharmacy sector has a strong, viable future.


BUTLER: Pharmacies have threatened to increase the price of other services to deal with this. Can you stop them from doing it?


BUTLER: Some measures we can. There have been a range of scare campaigns, for example, about aged care residents having to pay for the medication packaging in Webster packs that many of your listeners will be familiar with. Well, they can't do that. The aged care facilities are funded to do that. There's a very clear principle in the aged care principles that prohibits resident from being charged for that service. So there are some of these scare campaigns that are just complete rubbish. We know that pharmacists are now going to be funded to deliver new services to patients as well, because I've committed to reinvesting every single dollar that we save through this measure. So from January, for example, you'll be able to get vaccines covered by the National Immunisation Programme at your local pharmacy. Up until now, you've only been able to get it at your local GP. So we see this as a future in which pharmacists are also delivering a broader range of health care services, as well as dispensing medicine, which is something they've been arguing for many, many years.


KARVELAS: The Pharmacy Guild was after more government funding to compensate for the change. Are you prepared to do anything around that? Have you found a compromise?


BUTLER: As I said, we're reinvesting every single dollar we save as a Commonwealth. There will be a modest impact to their revenue. We calculate it as somewhere between 1 and 2% of their revenue, over the next four years. Just to put that in context: pharmacy revenue grew by 30% over the last four years. So this is not nothing, but it's a very modest impact to a highly profitable sector. Their own report a couple of months ago showed that the average gross profit for pharmacy is 34%. There's not another part of the private medical services industry I'm aware of that has a profit that is that high. So we're very confident that pharmacy has a strong future. For example, over the few months since I announced this measure, twice as many applications have been received to open new pharmacies, to open new businesses, as we received at the same time last year or the year before. So clearly out there, are a whole lot of people who understand this is a very profitable, sound business venture. But this measure that pretty much every other country to which we compare ourselves has had in place for years now is squarely in the patient's interests, in the customer's interests. That's why I've been so determined to push it through.


KARVELAS: That's interesting that you say that's doubled. Do you know why it's doubled?


BUTLER: No, but clearly people, though, think this is a way in which you can make some money and operate a profitable business. And all of the information I've seen, including the Pharmacy Guild's own report that they had Henry Ergas publish a couple of months ago, shows this already is a highly profitable, fast growing sector. As I said, 30% revenue growth in the last four years, average gross profits of 34%. So look, this is a really important part of local communities. I understand that, as much as anyone else does. They did a terrific job supporting people through the Covid pandemic. But this measure was first recommended five years ago by the medicines authority. These are medicines people aren't on for a short period of time. They're on them for years and years, sometimes for the remainder of their lives. It just doesn't make sense to treat it as a 30-day script. That's a day long gone by, when most of pharmacy business was for short courses of medicine for a single episode of illness. That's not the bread and butter business of a pharmacy or a GP nowadays, and we've got to catch up with that new reality. But pretty much every other country has.


KARVELAS: If you're just tuning in, this is ABC RN Breakfast and our guest is the Health Minister, Mark Butler. I'm changing the topic. Earlier this month, the Commonwealth and states and territories received advice on how to ban vapes. Talk us through that advice and how will you do it?


BUTLER: Actually we've got a meeting of Health Ministers only in a few hours time. We're going to have a detailed discussion about this. What I've wanted to do, if possible, is to have a single piece of legislation at a Commonwealth level that covers the field in this area, rather than having to pass nine pieces of legislation through every single parliament, which inevitably creates some sort of loophole that the tobacco industry will find their way through. So we've been working hard to get a measure that covers the field here. Health Ministers at a state and territory level and I are receiving a report from the TGA, the Therapeutic Goods Administration, and from Departments about this and we're very confident this is going to be a robust regulatory regime that does what we said we'd do, a couple of months ago, and that is stamp out this insidious thing that really has just exploded over the last few years and is causing real damage to our young people.


KARVELAS: Thank you so much for joining us this morning, Minister.


BUTLER: Thanks, Patricia.

Help us improve

If you would like a response please use the enquiries form instead.