Australia looks to save cash by cutting scripts for common drugs

Australian Health Minister Sussan Ley

The government of Australia said it will no longer cover basic nonprescription drugs like paracetamol and aspirin which are among 17 basic medicines that will be removed from the country's Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme starting in 2016. The move will save half a billion Australian dollars over the next 5 years, which Health Minister Sussan Ley said will be spent on listing new lifesaving drugs, according to a report in The Australian.

The new rules were not completely welcomed by everyone with the country's Consumers Health Forum saying it was concerned people will buy and take over-the-counter medicines without a treatment plan and regular monitoring from their doctor, the report said.

"Pain management ideally should involve several strategies on advice from your doctor, including non-drug therapies like gentle exercise and diet," the forum's chief executive, Leanne Wells, said in The Australian.

Ley said in the report that the new rules will not impact a patient's ability to seek a doctor's advice about over-the-counter medicines and said it would also help people who pay "up to three times the retail price when they buy these over-the-counter medicines with a prescription," the report said.

Paracetamol prescriptions alone cost the government A$68 million in 2014/15, according to the report, which said a 100 pack of 500-mg paracetamol tablets can be purchased over-the-counter for A$1.89 but can cost A$12.07 with a prescription.

"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," the minister said, according to the report.

Meanwhile, New Zealand's government-run drug buying agency Pharmac said claims that Australia has better access to high-cost cancer drugs than New Zealand were wrong and research the agency has commissioned shows patients have access to the "best available" medicines, according to a report by

The issue arose recently when reports surfaced that costly cancer treatments forced terminally ill patients into the heart-breaking situation of choosing whether to fight the disease or "accept the inevitable" because of the high costs, the report said. Pharmac said its research however showed "little difference" between the number of drugs covered by their respective health plans.

"We found that New Zealand funded 101 cancer medicines, and Australia funded 110. This included 88 cancer medicines that New Zealand and Australia both funded. We also found that both countries funded cancer medicines that the other didn't: Australia funded 22 medicines that weren't funded in NZ, and NZ funded 13 medicines that weren't funded in Australia," said Pharmac medical director John Wyeth, according to the report in

Wyeth also said in the report that the additional medicines funded in Australia, but not in New Zealand, offered no extra health gains that would be considered "clinically meaningful" by international cancer specialists, the report added.

- here's the story from The Australian
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