Common prescription medicines cheaper over-the-counter

Many concessional patients with a prescription for medicines such as paracetamol and aspirin are paying two-to-three times retail prices than if they simply purchased them over-the-counter.


Minister for Health Sussan Ley today confirmed the 17 types of common over-the-counter medicines for issues such as headaches, heartburn and constipation that will no longer be subsidised as a prescription drug under the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) from January 1 2016.


The decision follows consultation with the independent Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee and is part of the Government’s PBS reforms, which passed the Senate earlier in 2015.


Ms Ley said, “There’s no doubting that many of these over-the-counter drugs such as paracetamol and aspirin can be a simple and easy treatment for various conditions.


These inconsistencies in the system have seen patients and taxpayers unnecessarily paying higher prices to fill prescriptions for medicines that can often be purchased cheaper straight off the shelf.


For example, we currently have concession card holders right now paying $6.10 for a $2 pack of paracetamol if they buy it using a PBS-subsidised prescription, which also attracts a taxpayer subsidy on top.”


Ms Ley said while these 17 medicines made up only about 15 per cent of over-the-counter medicines subsidised under the PBS, between them they generated 8.7 million scripts costing $87 million in 2014-15 – nearly 90 per cent of the annual $100 million taxpayer spend on OTC medicines.


As such, Ms Ley said the changes would also save taxpayers about half-a-billion dollars over the next five years, whilst also reducing the out-of-pocket costs for many patients so they did not need to reach the PBS safety net as quickly or at all.


Ms Ley said the PBAC had recommended a number of more-expensive and emergency over-the-counter drugs would remain subsidised on the PBS for patients with a prescription, including ventolin for asthma, adrenalin epipens for allergies and various nutritional supplements.


Retaining higher-cost and emergency products such as allergy epipens on the PBS ensures these vital medicines remain affordable for patients when and where they need them,” Ms Ley said.


These changes also make no change to a patient’s ability to consult their pharmacist or doctor about the use of over-the-counter medicines and I encourage them to continue do so.


The PBAC also recommended retaining PBS access to these medicines for certain patient groups in varying circumstances, such as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander persons, paraplegic and quadriplegic patients, and palliative care patients, as well as alternate arrangements for veterans.


3 November 2015.