The federal government’s free rapid antigen test (RAT) scheme came into effect this week, but many concession card holders will be unable to take advantage of it, according to pharmacies.
National cabinet last week approved a scheme – the Rapid Antigen Testing Concessional Access Program – in which pharmacies will be reimbursed $10 per RAT kit, but a continuing supply shortage means that many smaller chemists will not be able to procure kits at that wholesale price.
When will the RAT shortage end?
According to the Pharmacy Guild of Australia, ongoing RAT supply shortages have pushed the wholesale cost up from $8 only a few weeks ago to above the $10 mark. As a result, some pharmacies, which would now be incurring a loss by participating in the scheme, will not be offering concession card holders free tests, putting the program – designed to give those eligible 10 free tests between now and April – at risk.
Smaller pharmacies are being hit the hardest by the price squeeze. Chemist Warehouse, which has more than 450 outlets across the nation, placed a large order of RATs several weeks ago and, as a result, has enough stock to be able to offer concession card holders kits at no charge.
But smaller pharmacies cannot afford to do so while limited stocks push the wholesale price higher.
The guild’s Victorian branch president, Anthony Tassone, said most pharmacies he knew of – including his own – would not yet have the stock to be able to take part in the free test program, a view supported by Wan Lim, a Collingwood pharmacist in Melbourne, who said her pharmacy did not have stock because she had not been able to source rapid tests cheaply enough to make it worth participating in the scheme.
The national president of the Pharmacy Guild of Australia, Trent Twomey, expects there will be an easing of supply pressure from next Monday, when 13 million kits are due to arrive in Australia, and a further easing in February, with “another 22 million arriving just for pharmacy through those wholesalers in the first three weeks of February”.
Also helping to ease the burden is the possibility that the Omicron outbreak has already peaked in the nation’s two most populous states, New South Wales and Victoria. Epidemiologist and biostatistician at the University of South Australia Professor Adrian Esterman believes those two states have “absolutely peaked”.
Meanwhile health minister Greg Hunt has criticised those engaged in the practice of hoarding RATs and price gouging, and warned that those who do so will be punished accordingly. Those who sought to take part in the illegal practice “will face the wrath of the investigative body”, he said.
Are you eligible for a free RAT?
Where available, rapid antigen tests will be provided free of charge to the following cardholders:
- Pension Concession Card
- Commonwealth Seniors Health Card
- Department of Veterans’ Affairs Gold, White or Orange Card
- Health Care Card
- Low Income Health Card.
Those eligible will be able to access up to 10 tests over the next three months, with a maximum of five in a single month.
Have you had trouble tracking down a RAT kit? Why not share your experience in the comments section below?
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