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MA PBS message cuts through

Posted 12 August 2019

A video uploaded on the news.com.au website and across associated News online sites has widely publicised the message of an under-funded PBS and delays in access to new medicines in Australia.

Featuring prominent health journalist Sue Dunlevy, the video takes the plight of the PBS and Medicines Australia's message of patient access directly to consumers, counteracting the government's powerful public relations campaign suggesting thousands of new medicines are being funded.

But while the message is largely on track for industry, pharmaceutical companies do not escape unscathed with the Cancer Council pointing the finger of blame at pharma for delaying medicines reimbursement by charging "exorbitant prices".

"Medicines can only be reimbursed in Australia when an expert committee finds they are cost effective, and the high price of new medicines makes these negotiations difficult," Dunlevy says in the video.

However, in a section headed 'Why are we lowering the PBS budget?', Dunlevy quotes MA as saying budget projections show funding for the PBS "is falling in the next few years".

"The scheme will have to cover 4.5 million extra people with 20 per cent less money as the population grows and ages and more high cost medicines fight for subsidies," the top health reporter says.

"The top 10 countries around the world reimburse new medicines within an average 181 days - Germany takes 117, Great Britain 128. This compares with the average 462 days in Australia."

Dunlevy says "government delays and cutbacks in subsidy mean we lag the world" in accessing new medicines, with bureaucrats taking "over a year to approve new medicines for subsidy in Australia - four times longer than world leader Japan where it takes just 89 days".

"For cancer medicines, the delay is even longer averaging 610 days, but one cancer medicine took over 1800 days," she says.

"There are now over 30 medicines for cancer and other conditions reimbursed in most other developed countries, but they're not subsidised in Australia."

Dunlevy refers to the MA strategic agreement in which industry agreed to deliver $1.8 billion in PBS savings in exchange for halving the number of submissions needed to obtain reimbursement.

"Since that deal, the average time taken to approve subsidies has been increasing," she says. "Cancer Council and Medicines Australia want the government to take action to reduce these delays so Australians get faster access to medicines."

The video indicates the under-funded PBS message is finally being heard outside of the healthcare sector and marks a strong win for MA's corporate affairs team. 

Megan Brodie

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