Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme
23 May | '2023
The coalition strongly supports affordable access to medicines for all Australians, and we have a strong record to prove it. When we were last in government, we listed more than 2,900 new or amended medicines on the PBS, at an overall investment of around $16.5 billion. However, many concerns have been raised with me in my office by community pharmacists about what impact the government’s 60-day dispensing change will have on their small and family business. In fact, many are concerned this this change could force the cost of other items to increase, so that Australians end up paying more during a time when they are already doing it tough. Like many of Labor’s policies, it sounds good, but there are always consequences down the line, including what it will mean for the many thousands of people employed by a pharmacy. We’ve just heard the member for Macarthur describe this policy as an interrupter, like Uber. Well, this certainly is an interrupter to small and family businesses—those pharmacists who own pharmacies across the Gold Coast in my electorate. The challenges will be diabolical for 5,700 community pharmacies across the nation, 120 of which are based on the Gold Coast—which is the small-business capital of our nation, with 72,000 small businesses. That’s what many of these pharmacies are—small and family businesses, and I will always stand up for those small-business and family business owners.
Earlier this month I met with local Gold Coast community pharmacists and representatives from the Pharmacy Guild—Kyril, John, Anand, Amanda, James and Paul—to listen to their concerns surrounding these changes. Their message was abundantly clear: these changes will be dire for small and family businesses within the sector. James, who owns three pharmacies in my electorate, said that if these changes were implemented he would see the bottom line of his business halved. Even worse, James said that under these changes he’d have no choice but to close one of his businesses and it would become impossible for his business to stay afloat. This is simply not good enough. Labor is sending small and family business to the wall—intentionally.
Australia is currently facing a medicine shortage, and many of my local pharmacists have warned that half of the eligible medications under the 60-day dispensing changes are already in low supply. Double-dispensing medications that are already low in supply will only add to that supply shortage. What’s the government’s plan to address that? I’m guessing they probably don’t have one. Not only will these changes lead to further stress on our local community pharmacists but there is also concern that customers will panic-buy and stockpile medication, leading to further shortages and increased medication wastage. Nothing about this is good for small or family businesses, remembering that they employ thousands of people across our nation.
While the coalition have been listening to the genuine concerns of pharmacists and the Pharmacy Guild, their concerns have fallen on deaf ears when it comes to this Albanese government. James said that in one of his pharmacies, 54 per cent of his dispensary script numbers will be eligible for 60-day dispensing, and because of that he’ll experience a drop of 20 per cent of his gross profit. When you’re running a business, 20 per cent of your gross profit goes into the salary bill. These changes will mean that he will have to let go 12 of his 31 staff members—who also have their own families—across his three businesses. That’s 12 more people on the unemployment line from just one small, family business that is a pharmacy. All the pharmacists I spoke with echoed those metrics and are completely distressed about the changes. They are calling out for a lifeline and this government is offering them exactly nothing.
There are so many questions the government needs to answer regarding these changes. How will they ensure that regional and rural communities—which they don’t care about—are able to access the required supply of medications? How will they ensure small community pharmacies are able to access the required supply of medications? How will they prevent stockpiling of medicines? Can they guarantee that community pharmacies will not be negatively impacted by these changes? If they can’t answer these simple questions, how are our community pharmacies meant to have any confidence whatsoever in the government and their decision-making?
The coalition acknowledge the current cost-of-living crisis faced by Australians living with chronic illness. We have been calling on the government to provide a strong guarantee that this change will not harm the viability of community pharmacies. We also want to ensure the policy does not have perverse impacts for Australians more broadly, including pharmacy closures which, in turn, would put pressure on the health system. Why do Australians always pay more under this government?