Australians divided over the cost of medicines

Australians have given the Australian healthcare system a vote of confidence with the majority (65.5 per cent) giving it a score of eight or above out of 10 in the first Australian Healthcare Index.

However, the nation is divided over the cost of medications, with one third saying they are too expensive.

The index seeks to capture the mood and experiences of Australian healthcare patients.

Of the more than 8000 adult participants, 36.6 per cent say prescription medicines are too expensive.

The report’s authors believe this puts financial pressure on families faced with the prospect of prioritising medicine and healthcare.

However, more than half (56 per cent) believed that prescription medication was affordable.

Read more: Higher costs, more errors when medicines scarce due to COVID

The findings varied across the states, with those saying the cost of medicine was too high ranging from 31.9 per cent to 42.2 per cent.

While a large portion of respondents say the cost of meds was too high, open-ended responses suggest they were satisfied that concessions helped make some prescription medications more affordable.

From next month, Australians will have more affordable access to a lifesaving medicine on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS), cutting the cost of treatment from $50,000 to a few hundred dollars.

A generic version of fulvestrant – used to treat breast cancer – will go on the PBS list, along with several drugs to treat lung cancer and severe asthma and, for the first time, severe osteoporosis.

Government-subsidised medicines on the PBS cost patients a maximum of $41.30 for each script or $6.60 with a concession card.

Breast Cancer Network Australia chief executive Kirsten Pilatti says the PBS listing would go a long way to improving equity in healthcare.

“We don’t want a two-tiered system where people who have money have access to better care,” she said.

Read more: Generic versus brand medicines

It will certainly help Kristina Gorscak, 55, who is living with metastatic breast cancer.

She is one of the many Australians highlighted in the Australian Healthcare Index who balance finances with funding life-saving or life-preserving medicines.

“You’ve got so many other things to think about with your treatment and this means you won’t have to think about the financial side of it,” Ms Gorscak told The Sydney Morning Herald.

The index captures learnings from patients such as Ms Gorscak and those in the public and private healthcare ecosystem including primary care, private health insurance (PHI), emergency departments, elective surgery, prescription medicine and more.

The report also found that nearly all of those surveyed (95 per cent) embrace the use of technology in healthcare, such as telehealth, health apps, online booking, e-scripts and more.

While more than half (55.1 per cent) had private health insurance, most feel it costs too much.

Many do not prioritise dental care as a part of their overall care, as they feel it costs too much.

The report authors hope the index shines a light on attitudes towards healthcare, leading to changes in the system.

Read more: This free app helps you keep track of your medicines

Australian Patients Association chief Stephen Mason said: “As we advocate for improved patient care and health outcomes, the Australian Healthcare Index is an important pulse check on the patient experience for organisations like ours as well as the greater healthcare community, peak bodies and government at all levels …

“The APA became involved with the Australian Healthcare Index to hear the patient’s voice. Although we are comforted by the knowledge that our healthcare system has coped well during the pandemic, we are concerned about dental care and the cost of medicines.

“As for the perceived lack of value from PHI, we are working closely with Private Healthcare Australia and its members to address this concern and, in particular, to prevent excessive out-of-pocket costs.

“We hope the report’s findings make a positive contribution to shaping national healthcare policy, on behalf of patients across the country.”

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Written by Leon Della Bosca

Publisher of YourLifeChoices – Australia's most-trusted and longest-running retirement website. A trusted voice on Australia's retirement landscape, including retirement income and planning, government entitlements, lifestyle and news and information relevant to Australians over 50. Leon has worked in publishing for more than 25 years and is also a travel writer and editor, graphic designer and photographer.

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