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Tuesday, 28 May 2002
Page: 2456

Dr SOUTHCOTT (2:29 PM) —My question is addressed to the Treasurer. Would the Treasurer inform the House of measures announced in the 2002-03 budget which will ensure that the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme is on a sustainable basis and also ensure that future generations continue to have access to affordable medicines?

Mr COSTELLO (Treasurer) —I thank the honourable member for Boothby for his question and for his interest in sustainable health care services. When we released the Intergenerational Report, it showed that there was no area of government expenditure growing at a faster rate than the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme. It showed that the pressure of medical science, the ability to bring new medicines with treatment at a high cost onto the scheme, is going to be a significant driver of cost into the future. Any person that is interested in sustaining affordable pharmaceutical benefits will be interested in getting the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme onto a sustainable basis. That is why we announced in the budget measures to promote generic pharmaceuticals, measures to cut down on fraud, measures to enforce prescribing restrictions and so on.

We also announced increases in the copayments for pensioners—an increase of $1, from $3.60 to $4.60. Bear in mind that, after 52 scripts in a particular year, they are free thereafter for pensioners and concession holders. We announced for non-concession holders that the maximum rate for any pharmaceutical would be increased by $6.20, up to $28.60. That is the ceiling rate; that is the maximum that people can pay. So, if the pharmaceutical is $100, $200, $1,000 or $2,000, the maximum payable is $28.60. But this does not mean that each and every prescription is going up by $6.20, and there has been persistent misreporting of this fact arising out of the budget. For example, in the Age on 18 May 2002, the reaction of a family was as follows:

We've got a son who's an asthmatic. We were paying $17 to $18 a script before, now it's going to be in the $25 to $27 mark.

That is not right. If it was $17 to $18 a script before, it will be $17 to $18 afterwards. Another example is Ventolin: a Ventolin CFC-free inhaler with 200 doses costs $17.20. After the changes, it will cost $17.20. It is only the maximum that is going up. If you were below the maximum, the price does not change. This is something that has been persistently misrepresented by the Labor Party, which has been claiming that all prescriptions are going up. There was a piece in the Australian on 23 May 2002 where the member for Lalor said:

... the Howard Government's policies on the fertility rate seem confined to making the pill more expensive as a result of the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme changes.

That is not the truth.

Ms Gillard —You don't know what you're on about.

Mr COSTELLO —Why would you be retailing that through the Australian if it is not the truth? Let us take some of the oral contraceptives: Trifeme, an oral contraceptive, is $15.02 before the changes; it is $15.02 after the changes. Nordette is $15.91 before the changes and it is $15.91 after the changes. Levlen, another oral contraceptive, is $15.91 before the changes and it is $15.91 after the changes. The Labor Party announced that it was going to vote against putting every script up by $6.20, without finding out that every script is actually not going up by $6.20. Talk about cheapjack opportunism. Mostly you find out the facts before you announce a position.

Let us take the antibiotic Augmentin: it is $18.19 before the changes and it is $18.19 after the changes. Let us take Normison, sleeping tablets.

Mr COSTELLO —There is no need for them while you are the Leader of the Opposition. That is why we put you on at 11 o'clock at night, with your newly acquired deep voice. With Normison, for 25 tablets it costs $7.58 before the changes and it costs $7.58 after the changes. Sleeping pills, antibiotics, the contraceptive pill and Ventolin— the Labor Party has consistently tried to mislead the Australian public in relation to this, going into the newspapers claiming that everything is going up by $6.20. The Australian people ought to see through the Labor Party for the misrepresentation and deceit which it has practised in relation to this matter.

If you want a defensible, sustainable Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme, you need to put it on a substantial and sustainable financial basis. The people that tell you that no changes are required are the people that are essentially trying to sell the Australian public a lie. If we do not make small changes now to keep this financially sustainable, the only changes which you will have to make in the years to come are much more drastic ones. You will not be able to bring increasingly sophisticated pharmaceuticals onto the scheme, at very high costs, unless you have the scheme on a sustainable basis. The reason why this side of the House wants to put pharmaceuticals on a sustainable basis is that we care enough about people's access to pharmaceuticals to make them affordable in the long term. If you want to make them affordable in the long term, you will be putting in place now the reform which will keep this system going. This is the side of the House that believes in a sustainable system. Cheapjack opportunism will not deliver sustainable pharmaceutical benefits and nor will misleading the Australian public.