Despite being as effective and often cheaper than their brand name counterparts, only six out of 10 Australians opt for generic medicine, when available. However, changes expected in Budget 2017–18 could mean that generic medicine is the only option for many patients.
Looking to save $1.8 billion from large drug companies, the Government is also hoping to push more people to accept the generic version of their usual medicine. The drug company savings are being achieved under an agreement whereby major drug companies will reduce the cost of their medications by 25 per cent once the formula is no longer subject to a patent. For those still under patent, but that have been on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) for five years, prices will be reduced systematically over a period of 15 years.
Although pensioners will still pay $6.30 (or $5.30 if their pharmacist passes on the co-payment discount), those on certain contraceptive pills, Lyrica for pain medication, epipens for anaphylaxis and Warfarin to thin the blood, will see the prices drop as they are no longer under patent. And next year will see some of the most expensive medicines, including Humira, used for the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis and Crohn’s disease, and Herceptin, which is taken by breast cancer patients, drop by 25 per cent when the patent expires.
Health Minister Greg Hunt is expected to announce changes that will see the generic version of medicines prescribed automatically, with GPs who wish to prescribe the brand name medicine forced to navigate a complex system for approval. While this move will undoubtedly save money, there is concern that the changes will confuse older patients and may cause a mix up with medicines.
It is hoped that the changes will increase the use of generic medicines from 60 to 80 per cent.
However, a spokesperson for Greg Hunt said claims on reducing access to medicines was false. “The choice of medicine is and will always be a decision for the doctor, ” he said.
Another expected move that could be seen as a win for patients is an end to the freeze on Medicare rebates for GP visits. This will be implemented for concession patients from 1 July this year and all other patients from 1 July 2018.
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