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Cabinet approves new arthritis medicine.

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Media Release

Senator the Hon Kay Patterson Minister for Health and Ageing

29 June 2003


People who meet guidelines drawn up by medical experts will have access to a new medicine for arthritis after the Federal Government listed it on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS).

The Minister for Health and Ageing, Senator Kay Patterson, said Cabinet had approved the listing of Enbrel, one of a new class of drugs affecting the immune system.

It would be listed on the PBS from July 1, 2003, for children and adults would gain access to the new drug on August 1, 2003.

Enbrel costs about $25,000 for each patient a year. It represents a substantial advance in the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis.

Senator Patterson said the PBS subsidised the new medicine making it affordable for patients. Health care card holders would pay $3.70 for each script until they reached the safety net. Each script would then be available at no cost for the rest of the year.

General patients would pay $23.10 for each script until they reached the safety net threshold. They then would have to pay only $3.70 for additional scripts for the rest of the year.

Senator Patterson said the PBS was a precious community asset, which gave all Australians affordable access to highly-subsidised medicines.

However, the scheme faces pressure from growth of 50 per cent over the past four years, taking its total cost to more than $4.8 billion a year - a massive rise from $1 billion in 1990-91.

"If we are going to continue as a community to be able to afford the latest very expensive drugs, we must act now to make the PBS sustainable," Senator Patterson.

"We simply cannot let this growth continue if we are going to be able to ensure affordable access to medicines for all Australians."

Senator Patterson said the Government's proposed increase in the PBS co-payment was a sensible modest measure to ensure the scheme's sustainability. It was estimated to reduce PBS expenditure by $1.03 billion over four years.

"It is instructive and concerning to consider the cost of only three drugs - Enbrel, the extension of Mabthera and Glivec. The total cost to the Government of these three drugs is estimated to be $700 million over four years.

"This represents almost 70% of the increased contribution from the modest increase in co-payments that we are seeking.

"The PBS is the fastest-growing item in the health budget. Sitting back and doing nothing to tackle this growth is not an option."

Senator Patterson called on the Democrats, the minor parties and the Opposition to act responsibly and assist the Government to sustain the future of the PBS by passing the Government's co-payment legislation.

The legislation, part of an overall program to help secure the future of the PBS, has been blocked twice in the Senate.

Media inquiries: Randal Markey, Media Adviser, Senator Patterson's office, 02 6277 7220.