Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Current HansardDownload Current Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Wednesday, 13 November 2002
Page: 6193


Senator PATTERSON (Minister for Health and Ageing) (11:35 AM) —I understand the incredible intensity of people's beliefs about this issue, but I have to say one thing in response to Senator Boswell's saying that this would create medicines to which only the rich have access. I do not think that many people in this chamber would realise—I did not realise it until I became health minister—that we have a very limited number of people in Australia who have a very serious disease for which there is a treatment. As health minister, I am able to sign off for people to have access to this treatment. I will stand corrected as to the exact dollar amounts but, depending on how much treatment is needed, for one person it costs $457,000 and for another person it costs $214,000—that is the range. What a fantastic country we live in, that we are able to do that! I find it difficult when people come in here and emotionally say that only the rich can afford it and that the poor will not be able to. In this case, irrespective of your means, it is a treatment which is available to people. It is an example of a treatment—not from embryonic stem cell lines; let us not get it confused—which is very expensive but to which people have access because it has been shown to be clinically effective and cost-effective. So it has been through the test.

Only the other day we approved a treatment for macular degeneration—and I cannot remember whether it was a commitment in the last election; I will not say it was— which had presented a difficulty because it did not fit with the PBS and it did not fit with the MBS. It is an inert substance which requires cold laser to activate it, and so it fell between the two. It costs about $2,000 per treatment, and for people who need the whole treatment it costs $10,000. People who need it and for whom it has been shown to be clinically efficacious have to be assessed after they have had one or two treatments. They are able to have that treatment up to $10,000.

We need to get a little perspective into this debate. I know the emotions are running high. We do have treatments that are very expensive. Gleevec, for example, has just been extended within the prescribing guidelines as put out by the PBAC. There are some initial treatments, but, as a second line of treatment for chronic myeloid leukaemia, Australians for whom it is clinically appropriate now have access to Gleevec. It costs approximately $50,000 a year. So I do not accept the argument that it will be available only to the rich, because we do have an incredible system in Australia. Hopefully, we can keep supporting it—and we will have that debate later when the other bill comes before us. But I do think that we need to get a bit of perspective in what is a very difficult debate.