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Visit to the chemist about to get more expensive

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Patients will pay up to almost $43 for prescriptions and will take longer to qualify for safety net relief as the Federal Government tries to rein in spending on subsidised medicines.

In a Budget measure expected to save $1.3 billion over four years, people seeking to have their prescription filled from 1 January next year will face an extra $5 on top of the current $37.70 co-payment. Patients with a concession card will face an 80 cent increase to $6.90.

Adding to the blow, the Government has announced that the safety net thresholds for general patients will increase by the consumer price index plus 10 per cent, while the threshold for concession card holders will increase by two prescriptions a year, from the current 60 prescriptions to 62 in 2015, and moving up to 68 in 2018.

Health Minister Peter Dutton said the hike in the PBS co-payment was necessary to help defray the mounting cost of providing subsidised medicine.

Mr Dutton said that for too long successive governments had ignored the remorseless rise in PBS spending as demand for medicines, including for new and expensive treatments, had increased.

“As more high cost medicines are listed, and more patients require access to these treatment, the cost to taxpayers will increase,” the Minister said.

“This continual pipeline of new, potentially lifesaving listings is one reason why longer term growth in PBS spending is expected to average between 4 and 5 per cent a year.

“The Government must manage this to continue to keep medicines affordable for the many Australians who need them.”

Even with the co-payment increases and tighter safety net thresholds, Government spending on the PBS is set to increase, from $9.2 billion in 2014-15 to $10.3 billion by 2017-18.

This will include increases in the price of five medicines – cholesterol treatment Simvastatin, gastric reflux drug Rabeprazole, arthritis medication Methylpredisolone and blood pressure drug Pindolol – estimated to cost an extra $8.1 million in the next five years.

While the Government has slapped additional costs onto patients, it has allocated $16.5 million to enable medical practitioners to lodge paperless claims for PBS medicines dispensed from hospital medication charts, a measure it said would not only cut red tape for doctors but reduce the risk of dispensing errors for patients.

The AMA and other health advocates have raised concerns that increasing the cost of medicines will put a barrier in the way of people who need treatment, undermining their health and increasing the likelihood that they will need more expensive care – including possibly hospitalisation – later on.

Adrian Rollins