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Thursday, 14 November 2002
Page: 9089

Mr JOHNSON (2:57 PM) —My question is addressed to the Minister for Ageing, representing the Minister for Health and Ageing. Would the minister inform the House of how the government is ensuring the sustainability of the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme? What alternative policies exist on this issue?

Mr ANDREWS (Minister for Ageing) —I thank the honourable member for Ryan for his question on this important subject. Australians have enjoyed good health by international standards because we have a comprehensive health system in this country. An integral part of that health system is a sustainable and affordable Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme, one which has stood this country in good stead over the past 50 years. However, there have been increases in the cost of that. In 1990, the PBS cost the nation $1 billion. Today it costs almost $5 billion and it is projected that, if the current growth rate continues, it could cost as much as $60 billion by 2040. Therefore, in order to ensure the ongoing sustainability and affordability of this scheme, the government propose that we increase the copayment—a copayment first introduced by the Australian Labor Party—from $3.60 to $4.60 for concessional cardholders and from $22.40 to $28.60 for other Australians.

This ought to be put in the context of the actual cost of the pharmaceuticals and the medicines concerned. If we look at the end of December last year and the drugs, pharmaceuticals and medicines most commonly prescribed in Australia, we find the most common were for cholesterol—Lipex or Zocor. The average cost of a prescription for these drugs is $60.86. We are proposing that a concessional cardholder would pay no more than $4.60. Take Lipitor, the second most prescribed drug in Australia. The actual cost per prescription is $59.71. Again, it is proposed that a concessional cardholder would pay no more than $4.60. Take Losec, which is used for peptic ulcers. The actual cost for that is $64.14. Again, a concessional cardholder would pay no more than $4.60. Take Celebrex, which is commonly used in the treatment of arthritis. The prescription cost is $46.92, for which it is proposed a concessional cardholder would pay no more than $4.60. As the Treasurer indicated yesterday, concessional cardholders on average fill 19 prescriptions per year, so the increase, with the safety net in place, for a person who has a concessional card—that is, a pensioner or a self-funded retiree—would be just $19.00.

The real question is for the Labor Party. Back in 1990, when the copayment was introduced, the then leader of the Australian Labor Party, Paul Keating, said about copayments that Australians risk losing:

... the scheme altogether, so that access to complete health care would only be available to the wealthy.

The choice facing the Australian Labor Party today is whether or not it is prepared to support the changes to this scheme which will ensure that, for not just the last 50 years but the next 50 years and for not only this generation but also future generations of Australians, we have a sustainable and affordable pharmaceutical benefits system in place. Does the Australian Labor Party any longer pretend to represent ordinary Australians or is it just concerned with the wealthy, because they will be the only ones able to afford drugs into the future?

Mr ANDREWS —The Leader of the Opposition interjects, but the reality is that we have a Labor Party that wants to increase the tax hike so far as the private health system is concerned, a Labor Party that wants to increase the cost of drugs for ordinary Australians. That is the choice before you at the present time. Do you want to have a sustainable system into the future or not?