Australia's Ley hits back at drug firms on access to new medicines, reimbursement policies

Australia Health Minister Sussan Ley

A growing tussle between industry and Australia's Liberal-led coalition over efforts to trim drug reimbursement costs widened this week as Health Minister Sussan Ley hit back at Medicines Australia over the approval times for newer treatments and related costs.

Ley told reporters in Australia this week that drug companies are to blame for Australia having to wait up to 15 months for new medicines, according to a Sky News report, citing an independent review that found Australia lists drugs three months faster than Europe.

The comments came as industry group Medicines Australia this week said access to newer medicines are at risk because Ley scuttled on a deal reached in May that would have supported A$6.6 billion in budget savings over 5 years in return for greater clarity on new drug applications.

Ley allegedly changed some of the outlined agreement in order to win legislative passage of the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) Access and Sustainability Reform Package, Medicines Australia said.

The trade body said it was "extremely disappointed" with Ley's move to backtrack on the agreement and said it placed patient safety at risk.

Earlier this year, Medicines Australia called for a more flexible and fast-tracked approach to approving new cancer drugs, for example, citing data that shows Australia ranked 18th out of 20 comparable OECD countries on access to innovative new medicines.

But Australia's health ministry has said that reimbursement costs will cross A$50 billion by 2020 and include billions of dollars of new drug listings under the legislative package passed and that was made possible by lower costs paid for existing drugs, particularly generics.

"Consumers are the big winners from the passing of this package," Ley said last week.

Generics will be priced according to a weighted average of all generic versions and exclude the branded price, which is a change from past practice. A separate agreement with pharmacies and generics makers will also lead to lower costs, as will plans to offer biosimilars based on new assessment criteria that have drawn industry heat.

- here's the SkyNews story
- here's the PBS sustainability package release
- and the Medicines Australia release