Television interview with Minister Butler and Kieran Gilbert, Sky News - 7 September 2022

Read the transcript of the Sky News Afternoon Agenda interview with Minister Butler about the announcement of cheaper medicines through the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme.

The Hon Mark Butler MP
Minister for Health and Aged Care

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KIERAN GILBERT, SKY HOST: I’m joined by Minister for Health Mark Butler. Lots to talk about here because it affects a lot of people, millions of people to benefit from that and I do want to get to it. But this Ged Kearney issue of her managed funds. Is that in breach of the Ministerial code?
 
MARK BUTLER, MINISTER FOR HEALTH AND AGED CARE: Let's be clear Kieran, we have introduced the toughest minister or code of conduct that this country has seen since Labor was last in government because one of the first acts of Tony Abbott when he was elected Prime Minister was to essentially tear up the Labor government's code of conduct - and particularly tear up the prohibition against Ministers holding direct shareholdings. Those conflicts were apparent right for the nine years of the last government; shareholdings, the ability to benefit—Christian Porter's case for example—from blind trusts without telling people who the investors were in those blind trusts.
 
Now under our Code of Conduct, Ministers are not able to hold investments other than in public superannuation funds, or publicly-listed management funds, subject to certain conditions. And in those cases, the Minister or Assistant Minister need to disclose those investments. As I'm advised, Assistant Minister Kearney has done that.
 
GILBERT: She has disclosed it, but of the funds there are four with interest in health upwards of 10 per cent. And the code says, you can have a fund where the fund or trust does not invest to any significant extent in the business sector that could give rise to a conflict of interest with the minister’s public duty. Is upwards of 10 per cent significant?
 
BUTLER: We know a publicly listed management fund is going to broadly probably invest across the economy in a way that reflects the mixed nature of the economy. It's going to invest in defence and in health and in banking and a range of other sectors of the economy. The critical part of the code of conduct is that they be no ability for the Minister or Assistant Minister to influence investment decisions, which as I understand it is the case here it's a publicly managed fund managed by other people very much at arm's length. And as to the precise nature of the investments I don't have advice but the requirement is that those managed funds be diverse in their nature, and as I understand it, that is the case with Ged’s investments and they've been properly disclosed.
 
GILBERT: So not she's not in breach of the code.
 
BUTLER: That's my that's my very clear advice. But let's be clear Kieran again, we have introduced the toughest Code of Conduct seen in a decade and our Ministers and our Assistant Ministers have worked hard to make sure their arrangements are put in place and to a degree necessary, re-adjusted, to ensure that they comply with the toughest Code of Conduct.
 
GILBERT: It is tough. You set the rules, you’ve got to honour them don’t you?
 
BUTLER: Absolutely in our Ministers and Assistant Ministers have been working hard to make sure that their arrangements comply with that code, the toughest code we've seen in a decade.
 
GILBERT: We've got to talk about this other significant move today. Because as I said, millions of Australians are going to be affected here. You've said it's the biggest cut in the price of medicines in Australian history. Would you like to go further than the $30 co payment?
 
BUTLER: I've only just introduced the Bill this morning, our focus is on getting that introduced. As you've said, a patient who has two scripts—a general patient with two scripts a month—will save $300 a year through this. A family that together might have four scripts a month, will be saving as much as $600 a year and those savings will flow from the first of January. This is the first time in the 75 year history of the PBS the price of medicines has actually gone down. This is obviously not only a really important cost of living measure at this critical time when household budgets are under real pressure, but we know it's good for public health as well. Even the ABS tells us that almost a million Australians every year are going without a medicine that their doctor says is important for their health because they can't afford it. Pharmacists tell us that they're constantly having patients that know them well coming into their pharmacy, putting a series of scripts on their counter and asking for advice about which ones they can put to one side because they can't afford them all. This is a terrible position to put Australians in.
 
GILBERT: The UTS research said that the Pharmacy Guild referred to says that medication non-compliance hits the economy to the tune of $10 billion a year. That's massive.
 
BUTLER: Extraordinary.
 
GILBERT: So people not taking their medicines, or not showing up to work because they get sick and so on.
 
BUTLER: Particularly over the last two and a half years we've learned that the link between a strong economy and good health. Healthy people when a healthy economy and when people aren't taking the medicines that their doctors say is important for their health because they can't afford it there are a whole range of knock-on impacts. What pharmacists tell us is often patients are coming in and choosing to take the medicines that give them the most immediate benefit—it might be a pain relief medication for example—but forgoing the medicines that are actually really important for their longer term health, cardiovascular health and things like that. This is going to have a really serious impact on people's health and on the economy which is why this is just such a wonderful piece of legislation; cost of living relief and really important public health benefit.
 
GILBERT: Better productivity benefit I guess, of having people back at work and the $6.80 for the concessional payments people the health card, pensioners and others with health cards. That's $6.80 sounds reasonable, but the gap then to $30 co-payment for people who aren't earning much who don't have disposable income. That is quite a significant gap still, isn't it? I'm sure we would like to reduce that further?
 
BUTLER: And the reason why we were so focused on those general patients is that the $42.50 script price for general patients who aren't able to access a concession card is relatively high compared to countries we usually compare ourselves to. As I was saying earlier, if you're a working age Australian who's not on a great income, but might have two medicines that you need to fill every month, that's a very big hit to your budget. That's $85 every single month you're having to find at a time when the cost of living is skyrocketing. This was overdue, long overdue. There had been a focus on concession cardholders and pensioners who are able to access scripts $6.80. Over the last few years, we've seen the safety net drop for those concession card holders. We think thought it's time to deal with the position that general patients face and we know through the data, through the research you've talked about from the UTS that far too many Australians are going without medicines because of cost and this Bill will help address that.
 
GILBERT: And the annual saving is to the tune of a couple of 100 million dollars. Is that right?
 
BUTLER: That's right almost $200 million every year goes straight into patients pockets. They won't have to dish out at the pharmacist they’ll able to spend on other pressures or fill some of those scripts they haven't been able to.
 
GILBERT: Is it possible that it might be slightly more than that because people will be going to get the medicine that otherwise they would have passed up?
 
BUTLER: We've costed this pretty carefully. We know how many scripts are issued every year for medicines that are sort of in that 30 to $42.50 range. We're very confident about these costings.
 
GILBERT: Health Minister, I appreciate your time thank you.
 
BUTLER: Thanks Kieran.

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