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Thursday, 14 February 2019
Page: 426

Mr HUNT (FlindersMinister for Health) (09:42): I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

In particular, the National Health Amendment (Pharmaceutical Benefits) Bill (the bill) amends the National Health Act 1953 to support the ongoing administration of the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme and will ensure ongoing patient access to vital medicines.

The Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) has been providing affordable access to medicines for Australians for over sixty years and is rightly respected and valued for the high-quality, cost-effective service it delivers.

The Morrison government is deeply committed to the PBS and the Australian patients that benefit from this scheme. Our government has a commitment to list all medicines on the PBS when recommended to do so by the medical experts. Since 2013 our government has made approximately 2,000 new or amended PBS listings at an investment of over $10½ billion. This, of course, compares with the record of the previous government that deferred the listing of new medicines until such time as fiscal circumstances would permit.

The delivery of medicines to patients once listed on the PBS is a collaborative effort and Australia is well supported by its broad network of community pharmacies and the broader medicines supply chain. This bill will support them to continue to support Australians in need.

This bill proposes amendments which will support the PBS in two ways. Specifically, the changes will provide for application fees to be payable for applications by pharmacists to supply PBS medicines which was announced in the 2018-19 budget; and enable PBS medicines to continue to be supplied at pharmacy premises following bankruptcy.

The first of the amendments provides 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 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, relocate an existing pharmacy or where the pharmacy changes ownership. Payment of the fee will be required at the time pharmacists submit their application. This has the strong support of the Pharmacy Guild and the Pharmaceutical Society of 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.

This bill also includes measures that will allow PBS medicines to continue to be supplied to patients following the bankruptcy of an approved pharmacist, to ensure the community can continue to receive much-needed medicines and not be penalised as a consequence of those private operations. 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.

For many years, the arrangements following bankruptcy relied on the appointed administrator supplying PBS medicines at the pharmacy until approval was granted to another pharmacist, following the sale of the pharmacy business.

However, during the course of a Federal Court matter involving a bankrupt pharmacist, it was found that an approval of a pharmacist to supply PBS medicines was not proprietary in nature for the purposes of the Bankruptcy Act and therefore could not vest in the trustee in bankruptcy. Whilst the matter did not proceed to hearing, the result of an approval not being proprietary means that neither the approved pharmacist, nor the appointed administrator, is able to supply PBS medicines at a pharmacy affected by bankruptcy.

Therefore, if the appointed administrator cannot take over supply, then access to PBS medicines from the pharmacy may be disrupted. Cessation or interruption of access to PBS medicines is, as I have said, of particular concern in regional or rural settings, where there may be no or few other approved pharmacies nearby.

The amendments in the bill address these issues. The bill 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 and therefore closes that potential gap.

The new provisions will assist continuity of supply of PBS medicines at an affected 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 and I am confident they will be welcomed by PBS users. I would like to acknowledge and thank key stakeholders for their input during consultation on the bill.

I thank the Australian Restructuring Insolvency and Turnaround Association, the Australian Friendly Societies Pharmacies Association, and in particular the Pharmacy Guild of Australia and the Pharmaceutical Society of Australia.

The commitment of this government is to ensure that Australians have access through the PBS to affordable and life-changing medicines when and where they need them—medicines such as Orkambi for cystic fibrosis, Kisqali for breast cancer, Spinraza for spinal muscular atrophy, Tagrisso for genetically based lung cancer, and new immunotherapies such as Opdivo and Keytruda for a variety of indications. These are life-changing and life-saving medicines.

The changes proposed will therefore support this commitment and, in particular, will ensure patient access to PBS medicines will no longer be compromised when a pharmacy is affected by bankruptcy or external administration. Therefore, that is about saving lives and protecting lives.

I want to thank, in particular, the department and my office, including Mr Sam Develin, who has done an outstanding job in helping to bring these measures to this House. I commend the bill to the House.

Debate adjourned.