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Patients feel the pain as drug prices jump

Patients feel the pain as drug prices jump - Featured Image

The Federal Government’s move to de-list Panadol Osteo from the Pharmaceutical Benefits Schedule have become embroiled in controversy amid claims of price gouging and broken agreements that could double out-of-pocket costs for patients.

Pharmacists warn concession card holders could end up paying more than $15 – twice as much they did under the PBS – for Panadol Osteo after the Government announced that the common painkiller would no longer be subsidised through the PBS.

The warning came as Health Minister Sussan Ley asked the consumer watchdog to investigate after GlaxoSmithKline announced it would jack up the price of its popular painkiller Panadol Osteo by 50 per cent from the start of the year.

Ms Ley said the two decisions were unrelated and there was no obvious explanation for Glaxo’s price hike, prompting her to refer the matter to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission.

“There are no obvious market changes that justify such a substantial increase,” the Minister said. “Attempts by the makers of Panadol Osteo to link their proposed 50 per cent price increase to Government regulatory changes, without any detail to support their claims, can only be interpreted as an attempt to mislead consumers and pharmacists.

“With such a dominant share of the Australian market, this action by the makers of Panadol Osteo also raises questions about their intentions behind this 50 per cent price increase and, at the very least, requires examination.”

Last year Ms Ley announced that she had accepted a recommendation from the Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee (PBAC) that a number of over-the-counter medicines, including Panadol Osteo, no longer be listed on the PBS.

The change was to correct an anomaly in which people without a prescription could buy Panadol Osteo off the shelf for less than $5, while a concession card holder purchasing it on prescription would pay $7.52.

But the Government has itself come under scrutiny over the change.

The Pharmacy Guild of Australia has warned that, as a result of the de-listing, Panadol Osteo will actually cost patients more, breaking the terms of the agreement the Guild struck with the Government over the delisting of a number of medicines.

The Guild said it agreed to the delisting of several over-the-counter drugs based on assurances from the Government that they would be available at prices comparable to those paid by Concession Card holders through the PBS.

“It is now clear that this is not the case with Panadol Osteo, which is a recommended first-line therapy for the pain management of osteoarthritis,” the Guild said.

Under the PBS, concessional patients could buy two packs of 96 Panadol Osteo tablets for $7.52.

But the Guild said its analysis showed that the same patients would now pay between $11.90 and $15.00 for the same purchase, even before GlaxoSmithKline’s price hike.

It said the decision by the drug maker to increase the manufacturer price of a 96-tablet pack from $4.28 to $6.31 would push the wholesale price up to $6.65.

“This means patients are likely to have to pay more than $15 to purchase two packs of 96 Panadol Osteo, compared with $7.50 for a concessional patient under the PBS,” the Guild said.

In addition, because the purchases would no longer be made through the PBS, they would not count toward the Safety Net amount (general patients who spend more than $1475.50 on PBS medicines in a year get the rest at the rate of $6.20 per prescription. For concession patients the threshold is $372, after which medicines are free).

The Guild said it was concerned that “many people with chronic, debilitating osteoarthritis will have increased difficulty in affording their treatment” as a result of the changes.

It has asked the PBAC to undertake an analysis of the over-the-counter prices of delisted medicines, and to review its delisting recommendation of a number of medications, particularly Panadol Osteo,