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Cheaper drugs a path to better health

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Medicines save lives and improve health and wellbeing when they are available, affordable, and properly used.

With Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people experiencing double the rate of chronic illnesses than their non-Indigenous peers, access to affordable prescription medicines is essential. Unfortunately, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are not accessing medicines at a level that is appropriate to their needs, with cost being reported as a major barrier. 

As evidenced by the Closing the Gap (CTG) Pharmaceuticals Benefits Scheme (PBS) Co-payment measure, reducing out-of-pocket costs for medications increases access to, and use of medications, ultimately resulting in improved health outcomes. 

Since its inception in 2010, the CTG PBS Co-payment measure has increased access to medicines for more than 280,000 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in urban and rural areas, by reducing or removing the patient co-payment for PBS medicines. Substantial reductions in hospitalisations have also been seen in areas with the greatest uptake of the CTG PBS Co-payment incentive.

While the outcomes under this measure have been encouraging, there is still a long way to go until we achieve equality in access to medicines for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

A good starting point is to promote the CTG PBS Co-payment more widely to all prescribing doctors across Australia, to increase awareness and uptake of the initiative and build on its success.

In August 2012, Australian Doctor reported that, alarmingly, thousands of doctors were unaware of the existence of the CTG PBS Co-payment measure – an important initiative that has the potential to make a real contribution to closing the gap. 

With chronic diseases being one of the main reasons for the life expectancy gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people, it is unacceptable that so many Australian doctors are unaware of such an important scheme. 

Doctors working in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Community Controlled Health Services are generally aware of this initiative, and regularly prescribe medications covered by the CTG PBS Co-payment measure for the benefit of their patients. However, many doctors working in mainstream general practice may not be aware of this scheme.

To participate in the CTG PBS Co-payment measure, practices must be able to first identify eligible Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander patients. All patients across Australian medical practices should be asked whether they identify as being of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander origin by asking the National Standard Identification question – ‘Are you of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander origin?’ Once Indigenous patients are recognised, they are eligible to be registered for co-payment assistance.

Improved access to medicines is critically important if we are to see generational change in health outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

The Australian Medical Association encourages all medical practitioners to increase their awareness of the CTG PBS Co-payment measure to improve health outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander patients.

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