One of Australia’s leading pharmacy chains has revealed an audacious plan to offer some medicines listed on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) for free, and others at heavily discounted prices.
With inflation and the overall cost of living still rising, and showing no signs of slowing, consumers are looking for savings anywhere they can.
Now, pharmacy chain Chemist Warehouse has told News Corp it wants the federal government to relax rules around PBS co-payments so that it can offer greater discounts on medicines, and even offer some medicines free of charge.
Under current rules, Australians must pay a co-payment of $6.80 if they are a concession card holder or $42.50 if they are a general patient. The maximum PBS co-payment is set to reduce to $30 from 1 January 2023.
Pharmacies in Australia are only allowed to discount this co-payment by $1.
In New Zealand, where Chemist Warehouse also operates, government-subsidised medicines are available with a co-payment of NZ$5.
But pharmacies across the ditch are allowed to discount this co-payment amount completely, meaning the cost of the medicine is borne entirely by the government, with the end-user paying nothing.
Chemist Warehouse COO Mario Tascone said he wanted to see similar rules adopted here to give pharmacies greater flexibility in their pricing.
“We offer free prescriptions in NZ because we are allowed to discount the co-payment and we take the whole co-payment off,” he said.
“We would like to choose what we can discount the co-payment to here, and if the rules changed for certain drugs we would forfeit the co-payment.”
While it would be possible for some medicines to be offered free, Mr Tascone stressed it wouldn’t be possible for all medicines.
However, the rule changes would allow pharmacies to offer better discounts for more expensive drugs.
“[We] might be able to slash the general patient co-payment to $20 on some medicines and reduce the $6.80 co-payment pensioners pay to $2,” he said.
“We might be able to do some things for free. We might be able to do some things for $5. We want that flexibility.”
In 2020–21, more than half a million Australians reported either delaying or not filling a prescription due to cost. The economic climate for some is even worse now than in 2020, so expect this figure to rise much higher.
Has the rising cost of medicine affected you? Do you support these PBS rule changes? Let us know in the comments section below.