Health Minister Tanya Plibersek’s only reference to the PBS in her post-Budget briefing was to say that the Government had ‘continued to work with the pharmaceutical industry to get the best possible prices for medicines.’ Preferring to focus instead on ‘Labor values’, she said the new Budget would ‘improve the health and wellbeing of Australians regardless of where they live and what they earn.’
While individual companies will be affected by some price cuts – in particular those with angiotensin II receptor antagonists – industry peak bodies GMiA and Medicines Australia applauded the Government’s decision not to impose any further cuts or reforms.
In the tradition of ‘no news is good news’, the above may well be good news. It would be remiss, however, to assume that PBS reform was completely off the radar, even taking into account that the Government’s MOU with Medicines Australia remains in effect for another two years.
Questions for Crestor and Lipitor
Significantly, the Budget did not announce cost cutting for lipid-lowering medicines Crestor and Lipitor. This is despite them comprising the PBS’s greatest outlay and costing the Government $1b annually.
While manufacturers Astra and Pfizer can breathe a sigh of relief for now, the Health Minister is due to review these medicines in July, which could herald significant change for this therapeutic group. July is only six weeks away.
MOU and the surplus
Medicines Australia says the MOU is continuing to deliver the promised savings of $1.9 billion to the PBS, and that the PBS is experiencing historically low levels of spending growth, which are in turn helping ensure its sustainability.
Treasurer Wayne Swan has, however, stated his determination to deliver a Budget surplus. This alone should be keeping industry associations, individual companies and lobbyists busy.
The industry must remain vigilant. It will be important in the coming months to be prepared for unexpected impositions such as price cuts to lipid- lowering medications, possible deferrals of new PBS listings, and potential changes to the patient co-payment.