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Joint Media Release – Peak healthcare bodies meet with Minister on Cabinet decision to delay PBS listings

Thursday, 28 April 2011

Media Release

Health Minister Nicola Roxon has agreed to attend a roundtable conference co-hosted by an alliance of the Consumers Health Forum, a number of other peak health consumer organisations, the Australian Medical Association, Medicines Australia and the Generic Medicines Industry Association in Melbourne on Friday 29 April at 11am to hear their concerns about the Government’s plan to delay indefinitely the listing of new medicines on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS).

Minister Roxon, along with Treasurer Wayne Swan and Finance Minister Penny Wong, were invited to explain in person why Federal Cabinet is usurping the role of the independent Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee (PBAC), which recommends new medicines and vaccines for listing on the PBS.

The roundtable will also allow the peak healthcare bodies to reaffirm their strong opposition to Cabinet’s decision and explain to the Minister its impact on consumers, their families and their carers.

The Government has ignored the advice of its own expert committee, which recommended that the new medicines and vaccines be made available to patients through the PBS. Health consumers, clinicians and the companies who have developed these medicines are owed a proper explanation.

This decision puts the price of some medicines and vaccines beyond the reach of many sick and vulnerable consumers.

The current list of delayed medicines treat conditions such as lung disease, chronic pain, schizophrenia and enlarged prostate. A catch-up vaccine to prevent pneumococcal disease in young children was also delayed.

This week a further seven new drugs were recommended by the PBAC for PBS listing.

For Cabinet to be choosing to list some medicines on the PBS and not others raises the question of what expertise and experience they have that enables them to make decisions that contradict the advice of their own expert committee of clinicians and health economists.

Unless Cabinet reverts to the usual practice of accepting the PBAC’s recommendations and only requiring its approval for medicines costing $10 million or more in one year, more and more medicines will be held up in Cabinet, leaving more and more consumers without access to medicines that the PBAC has determined should be publicly available.

If Cabinet does not reverse its decisions, the problems are only going to get worse for consumers, clinicians and industry.

The Government has brought politics into what was an effective and de-politicised process in a highly sensitive area where people’s health, and indeed their lives, are at stake.

We are all aware that the Government has short-term budgetary imperatives and that it is important that the cost of our health system does not spiral out of our control. But it is hard to believe that Australia’s fiscal situation is so bad that we need to deny important medicines to sick people.

The PBS is working well. It is growing at only the rate of inflation and does not need to be tampered with. By not following the advice of the Government’s own independent expert advisory committee, Federal Cabinet has made a short-sighted policy decision, putting short-term fiscal considerations ahead of patient welfare.

The Government should immediately reverse its decision and revert to the practice of acting on the advice of its own independent expert committee, allowing Australians to access affordable medicines in a timely manner.

–ENDS–

Note to editors: Roundtable participants will be available for interview at 12.10pm outside 1 Treasury Place, Melbourne.

For further information:

Peter Logue, Consumers Health Forum 0402 067 614
Jamie Nicholson, Medicines Australia 0419 220 293

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