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Thursday, 4 July 2019
Page: 291


Mr HUNT (FlindersMinister for Health and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Public Service and Cabinet) (10:48): I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

Congratulations on your appointment, Deputy Speaker Mitchell. The National Health Amendment (Pharmaceutical Benefits) Bill, or the bill, amends the National Health Act of 1953 to support the ongoing administration of the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme, or PBS, and will ensure ongoing patient access to vital medicines.

The PBS has been providing affordable access to medicines for Australians for over 60 years and is rightly respected and valued for the high-quality, cost-effective services it delivers. Members of this House will know the names of medicines such as Orkambi and Kalydeco, delivered to help families who are facing the great challenge of cystic fibrosis, and Spinraza, for spinal muscular atrophy, a medicine that otherwise would have cost over $300,000, beyond the reach of virtually every Australian family who would otherwise need it; it is now on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme for as little as $6.50 a script.

And there is Brineura, on the parallel Life-Saving Drugs Program, for Batten disease. Although it will be needed by only a very small number of children, it is the difference between life and the loss of life for young children facing Batten disease and would otherwise cost over $750,000. And then there are medicine breakthroughs such as Opdivo and Keytruda, for a variety of indications of cancer, where lives can be saved, are being saved, and will continue to be saved.

So, as a government, our record is that we are deeply and fundamentally committed to the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme and the Australian patients who benefit from this scheme. The PBS covers more than 5,000 clinically proven products across a broad range of conditions, from asthma and arthritis to diabetes and cancer.

We have a commitment to list all of the medicines on the PBS when recommended to do so by the medical experts. Since 2013, as a government we have made over 2,100 new or amended PBS listings, at an investment of over $10.6 billion, with more medicines in the pipeline. We will continue to list all new medicines on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme, and this of course compares with the actions taken by our predecessors in 2011. This is a fundamental difference and also an exemplar of why we need a strong economy.

Due to our strong economic management, we are therefore able to provide further support for patients who access the medicines they need through the PBS. In particular, I am privileged to have recently announced that the Morrison government will invest a further $308 million to reduce the costs of life-changing prescription medicines for over 1.4 million Australians who require multiple medicines each month.

From 1 January 2020 the safety net threshold to receive free or cheaper medicines through the PBS will be lowered by 12 scripts for concession card holders and the equivalent of two scripts for non-concession-card-holders.

This change will mean that people will take less time to reach their safety net threshold, saving them up to $80 per year and providing them with earlier access to free medicines, or medicines at a reduced co-payment. This will be a particular benefit to families who require multiple medicines per month, and pensioners and individuals with multiple chronic conditions such as heart disease, high cholesterol, arthritis, asthma and diabetes.

In relation to this specific bill, the delivery to patients of medicines that were once listed on the PBS is a collaborative effort, and Australia is well supported by its broad network of community pharmacies and the broader medicine supply chain. This bill will therefore support them to continue to support Australians in their needs.

The bill proposes amendments that will support the PBS in two ways. First, the amendments provide for an application fee to be charged when pharmacists make an application to supply PBS medicines at pharmacy premises.

There is currently no fee, and this amendment will ensure that the operations of the pharmacy approval processes are consistent with the Australian Government Charging Framework.

The fee will apply to all applications to establish a new pharmacy or relocate an existing pharmacy, or where the pharmacy changes ownership. Payment of the fee will be required at the time the pharmacists submit their application. It is in line with the agreement struck with the Pharmacy Guild and represents the broad consensus amongst pharmacists within Australia.

The amount of the fee will be determined by the Minister for Health in a legislative instrument and will be calculated based on the regulatory activity involved in processing these types of applications.

The fees will be reviewed each year by the Department of Health and adjusted accordingly.

The second of the amendments includes measures that will allow PBS medicines to continue to be supplied to patients following the bankruptcy of an approved pharmacist so as to ensure that the community can continue to receive, with security, much-needed medicines. This will be of particular benefit in rural and remote areas, where access to alternative pharmacies may be limited.

The approximate number of pharmacies affected by bankruptcy or external administration is 20 each year. The bill therefore provides the Secretary of the Department of Health the power to grant permission to an appointed administrator to manage the supply of PBS medicines at pharmacy premises, thereby guaranteeing continuity and security for patients. The new provisions will assist this continuity of supply of PBS medicines at an effective pharmacy until such time as the pharmacy can be sold or transferred to another pharmacist.

The changes proposed in this bill will improve the operation of the PBS. I am confident they will be welcomed by PBS users.

I would like to acknowledge and thank key stakeholders for their input during consultation, in particular, the Australian Restructuring Insolvency and Turnaround Association, the Australian Friendly Societies Pharmacy Association, the Pharmacy Guild of Australia and the Pharmaceutical Society of Australia. I also want to acknowledge, within my office, chief of staff, Wendy Black, and senior adviser in relation to medicines and pharmacies, Sam Devlin, for their very powerful work in helping to develop some of these initiatives.

The aim of the government is to ensure that Australians have access through the PBS to affordable medicines when and where they need them. The changes proposed will ensure that access to PBS medicines will not be compromised when a pharmacy is affected by bankruptcy or external administration and is part of our fundamental broader commitment to deliver the benefits of a strong economy through central services and on our watch in our time where the experts recommend that medicines will be listed and should be listed on the PBS, we will do just that. It is about saving lives and protecting lives. I commend this bill to the parliament.

Debate adjourned.