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Wednesday, 19 October 1983
Page: 1979

Mr PORTER(8.56) —I raise in the adjournment debate tonight the heartless and callous action taken by the Minister for Health (Dr Blewett) in withdrawing pregestimil from the pharmaceutical benefits scheme. This product is a special infant formula and is used by children suffering from food allergies and other medical conditions. This and other products have been withdrawn from the PBS list because the Government has failed to reach an agreement with manufacturers of the product regarding the re-negotiated price which the Government is prepared to pay for it. The Minister, instead of entering into meaningful and fruitful negotiations, has apparently got into a huff and has taken the product off the subsidised list, trying undoubtedly to harm the manufacturer. As a consequence of the Government's action, a tin of pregestimil, which used to cost the consumer $2, now costs $20. I give the House one example of the effect of this enormous increase in the cost of the product on a family in my electorate.

Mr Griffiths —They have a mark up of 150 per cent.

Mr PORTER —The honourable member should wait until he hears what I have to say. The married couple to whom I refer have two children. One is three and the other is a 10-month-old daughter. This young baby has biliary atresia, which means she has no bile duct connecting her liver to her bowel. Her condition was detected when she was about eight weeks old. Doctors operated, but the operation was a failure and they discovered she has a blood clotting disorder which rules out further operations. Therefore, doctors have given her four months to live. Given her condition, pregestimil is the only food that she can have and this happens to be the product which the Minister has removed from the subsidised list. As a result of the Minister's unbelievably callous action, this baby girl's parents are now faced not only with the prospect of having to watch their daughter die, but with the financial burden of having to find an extra $50 or $60 a week for the milk formula on top of the cost of supplying their daughter's existing medication and vitamins.

The little girl's father is a timber mill hand with a gross weekly wage of about $260. This family's income was already being stretched to cover the extra costs of his daughter's medical treatment. Apparently, he has been able to earn a little extra by working night shift, but even so they clearly will not be able to cover this enormous increase for their daughter's special milk formula; nor should they have to. I simply ask the Minister: How on earth does he justify his action? Surely it is not fair or equitable that the middle to low income families with children needing special medications and formula should face additional costs of this magnitude.

I believe the Minister's action in allowing this situation to arise is absolutely despicable. If he wants to have an argument with the drug companies it is up to him but it should not be at the expense of my constituents who already have an extraordingary emotional burden to carry. The Minister must have known what the consequences of his action would be. If he did not he is a fool. If he did, and if this is the best we can expect from his in introducing a new socialised medical scheme in this country, God help us. The Minister must act immediately to restore these products to the subsidised list. Let him resolve his conflict through some form of arbitration rather than using these unfortunate people I have described as the helpless pawns in his brawl.

I have given but one example. I understand about 1,000 children require this product. Some 2,000 other people are affected by the withdrawal of other products from the pharmaceutical benefits subsidised list. This situation should never have been allowed to arise. I ask the Minister to resolve it immediately.

Motion (by Mr Lionel Bowen) agreed to:

That the question be now put.

Original question resolved in the affirmative.

House adjourned at 9.02 p.m.