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Wednesday, 13 October 1971
Page: 2291

Dr KLUGMAN (Prospect) - I should like to oppose clauses 5 and 6 which are under discussion on 2 bases. Firstly, the proposition about which we are now talking relates to the 'appropriate maximum amount' instead of a fixed charge. Secondly, what exactly does it mean? Neither the Minister for National Development (Mr Swartz) who introduced the Bill in this chamber, nor the Minister for Health (Senator Sir Kenneth Anderson) who made the original announcement, nor the Minister for Immigration (Dr Forbes) who in this place represents the Minister for Health, ever explained exactly what will happen to all of the pharmaceutical benefits which are at present costing the Government between 50c and $1. Are we going to increase the cost to the patient to $1? Let us assume that the cost of a particular pharmaceutical benefit at the present time was between 50c and $1. There are a lot of these. I will give a quick, list. I did not go right through them but I picked out a significant number. I understand that if one takes into consideration all the different sizes and different brands one gets approximately 800 items. The drugs which would be affected are adrenaline solutions and injections, aluminium hydroxide, amphogel, aminophylline cardophylline, amylobarbitone, amytal, aspirin, many kinds of sodium barbitone, butobarbitone, calcium lactate, cascara, antihistamine syrup, codeine tablets, cyclobarbitone, r digitalis, arid so on.

As I have said, these drugs cost between 50c and $1. At present 'they are on the pharmaceutical benefits list and the patient, instead of paying, say, 75c or whatever it is for them, pays 50c. He saves something on them. Now what will happen? Will the patient have to pay $1 instead of 75c, even though it costs the Government only 75c? Will the extra profit go to the chemist, or will that prescription be treated as a non-pharmaceutical prescription, in which case the chemist will increase his dispensing charge in the same way as he does for other sorts of prescriptions? Let us understand the position quite clearly. The chemist does not get as much from a pharmaceutical benefits scheme prescription as he does from an ordinary sort of prescription. What exactly will happen as far as those substances are concerned? The patient will lose either way. We will find that patients will have to pay $1 for something that is worth only 75c. A chemist will not put his prescription in to the Government for costing because he will have already collected more than he would get from the Government. Alternatively if the items are withdrawn from the pharmaceutical benefits list the patient will have to pay still more because the dispensing fees and so on charged for by the pharmacist will add another 50c or thereabouts.

I would appreciate it if the Minister at some stage would obtain this information and give it to the House. It is an important issue. It will be terribly important to many people. There are a large number of prescriptions that are just over $1. What will happen now is that the pharmacists will collect $1 from the patient. Let us have a look at some of the types of drugs involved. Some kinds of aspirin are now paid for by the Government at the rate of $1.03. Alkabarb Forte is $1.05; Bellatran Forte $1.03; some haemorrhoidal suppositories are at $1.08; Veracolate is at $1.01; Vallergan mixture is at $1.05; Sulphamezathine is at $1.05; Phenylbutazone between 99c and $1.19; and all sedatives are at around $1.15.

What exactly will happen? The cost of just organising this sort of benefit, as it is called by the Government, iri which the Government will pay the extra lc and up to 15c on all these many items, will be much more than the extra lc to 15c involved. Yet if we withdraw these items the very least that would happen obviously is that the items will become much more costly for 2 reasons. The first reason is that the patient will be charged the extra dispensing fee and so on. Secondly, at the present time the Government, because of its arrangement with the Pharmacy Guild of Australia, and about which the honourable member for McMillan . (Mr Buchanan) continuously complains and which complaints may or may not be justified - I have some doubts on this - pays the chemist much less for these substances than would normally be the case.

Mr Armitage - How many are involved?

Dr KLUGMAN - There are about 800 between 50c and $1 and hundreds of others are just over the $1 limit. I would appreciate it and the House would appreciate it also if we could obtain some kind of explanation from the Minister for National Development who is representing the Minister for Health in this place.

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