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VU Researcher says: PBS price changes subject to ad-hoc politics

Cost-savings to Australia’s fast-growing $8 billion Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) should be based on firm policy, not ad-hoc politics, says Victoria University researcher, Dr Kim Sweeny.

Dr Sweeny, from VU’s Centre for Strategic Economic Studies says that one of the ways the Government saves money in the medicine subsidy scheme is by makeshift increases to safety net threshold amounts, and patient co-payments, rather than sound economic strategies.

“Increases to these areas have become political tools that could undermine the National Medicine’s Policy’s goal, which has as a main objective, ready access to medicines that Australians need, at a cost individuals and the community can afford,” he says.

Dr Sweeny was recently awarded his PhD in philosophy from VU for his study, entitled ‘Accounting for Growth in the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme’.

Patients contribute to the cost of their PBS prescriptions through co-payments, which increased by 5 per cent in 2009 to $5.30 for patients with a concession, and by 6 per cent to up to $32.90 for a general patient.

Safety net thresholds, which set limits on the amount patients pay before a subsidy applies, are now $1264.90 for general patients, and $318 for patients with a concession – both about 10 per cent higher than 2008.

“Since the cost of the PBS to the country has increased at about 12 per cent a year since the early 1990s – much faster than GDP or any other economic measures – I am proposing that the Federal Government articulate a policy for setting the levels of co-payments and safety nets using rational economic theory,” he says.

“This might start by maintaining the real value of both as a constant portion of either inflation or average household incomes,” he says.

Some 700 medicines, or around 80 per cent of the 170 million prescriptions dispensed in Australia a year, are currently listed under the PBS.

Dr Kim Sweeny is available for interview

Ph: (03) 9919 1349

Media Contact: Ann Marie Angebrandt, Media Officer

Marketing and Communications Department, Victoria University

Ph: (03) 9919 5487

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