Pharmacy chain wants to offer some PBS drugs for free

pharmacist offering PBS drugs for free

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.

Read: Savings on wide range of PBS medicines set to start

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.

Read: What is the PBS Safety Net and how does it work?

“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.

Read: The cost of cancer – not all treatments are covered by the PBS

“[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.

Written by Brad Lockyer

Brad has deep knowledge of retirement income, including Age Pension and other government entitlements, as well as health, money and lifestyle issues facing older Australians. Keen interests in current affairs, politics, sport and entertainment. Digital media professional with more than 10 years experience in the industry.


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  1. You would have to ask yourself how they would finance that model. They still have to pay the wholesaler to get the medicines, pay pharmacists to dispense the medicine, and then all the on costs of running their stores. I doubt the dispensing fee the government pays them is that high. I suspect that they would raise prices of everything else they sell. I see this as a way of putting all the small community pharmacies out of business and creating a monopoly for Chemist Warehouse. Also they don’t have stores everywhere so what about the people who cannot get to one of their stores?

  2. The co-payment of $6.80 for concession card holders, like myself, has now risen to $7.30 from January 1, 2023, or so I was advised by my local pharmacist when I went to fill a prescription recently!

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