According to Health Minister Nicola Roxon’s statement to pharmaceutical company bosses, new medicines will no longer be subsidised unless budget savings can be found.
This could mean a delay in approval of up to 100 new medicines for terminal cancer and other diseases a year and save the government up to $200 million a year. Patients will lose out on these. Since quite a few life-saving medicines can cost up to $40,000 a year, and government subsidies are essential to make them affordable to patients, cutting their cost to just $34.20 per month or $5.40 per month for pensioners.
The new policy has been proposed to reign in the surplus budget. A former member of the government’s expert independent Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee and now AMA vice-president Steven Hambleton yesterday accused the government of politicising the drug approval process. The new rules were about “overt rationing of health care”, he said. The government last month saved $30m by delaying subsidies for seven new medicines including Duodart, a treatment for benign prostate cancer, a new schizophrenia medication Invega Sustenna and a lung medication Symbicort.
Pharmaceutical companies are unhappy with this to say the least. They demanded a meeting with Ms Roxon on Wednesday last week only to receive worse news: she told them that no new medicines would be funded unless the government can find offsetting savings. Medicines Australia chief Brendan Shaw said, “It’s a bit disappointing that a wealthy country like Australia can’t afford to list new medicines for Australian patients.”
Ms Roxon said spending needed to be prioritized and there were already alternatives for the deferred listings. “In all cases but one there are alternative treatments available that are listed on the PBS,” Ms Roxon told journalists in Adelaide. “Governments always have to make decisions in difficult financial and fiscal circumstances in terms of how we prioritize our spending.” Speaking of alternatives Dr Shaw said, “There are alternatives but they are either not as good or will cost patients more money…For example there is a (deferred) schizophrenia drug (Invega Sustenna) that requires one injection a month instead of two.” Dr Shaw said the decision to defer listings would lead to uncertainty for patients.