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Government pumps up PBS

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The Abbott Government has moved to fast-track the approval of subsidies for medicines that have been recommended for PBS listing by medical experts.

 In a break with practice under the previous Labor Government, Health Minister Peter Dutton has announced that he will have authority to directly approve the listing of drugs that will cost less than $20 million a year to subsidise.

Under Labor, recommendations for drugs to be listed on the PBS had to go before Cabinet for approval, prompting complaints of unnecessary delays in giving patients subsidised access to lifesaving medicines.

Mr Dutton said the changes introduced by the Government would speed approvals for medicines that had received a positive recommendation for funding from the Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee.

In 2001, the Howard Government established a $10 million threshold for medicines that could be listed on the PBS by the Health Minister, and Mr Dutton said the current Government had not only restored the threshold, but increased it, in order to give patients access to new and improved medicines “sooner and at an affordable price”.

 The move followed an announcement earlier last week in which treatments for cancer, diabetes and multiple sclerosis were among 50 new and upgraded medicines approved for subsidy by the Federal Government.

Health Minister Peter Dutton has announced that about 230,000 Australians will be able to cheaply access advanced drugs for treating a range of serious and debilitating conditions after they were added to the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme on 28 October.

Among the medicines to receive a subsidy is the melanoma treatment Dabrafenib, a drug that targets the genetic mutation that is present in about half of all melanoma cases.

Mr Dutton said that, to support its use, the Government would also provide subsidised access, through the Medicare Benefits Schedule, to the genetic test necessary to determine eligibility for Dabrafenib.

“This means the costs for both the medicine and the genetic test will be subsidised, and will benefit more than 800 Australians,” the Minister said.

The Government has also approved subsidies for the pancreatic cancer treatment Sunitinib, which increases survival rates of patients who cannot undergo surgery, and for extending the use of the osteoporosis medicine Denosumab to men.

In addition to the new listings, the Government has also approved price changes for a number of medicines on the PBS, but Mr Dutton assured patients that despite the changes they would have to pay no more than $36.10 per prescription, or a maximum of $5.90 for pensioners.

Adrian Rollins