National Health Amendment (General Co-Payment) Bill 2022

29 September, 2022

It's not often I can say this, but two years before I was born the Chifley government introduced a PBS scheme, and what a benefit that has been to Australians all of these 73 years—73 years of benefit to families, to the people the former speaker mentioned, especially those with type I or II diabetes, and every other condition that may have come upon the Australian people.

Our health and wellbeing, the food we eat, the exercise we have, the things we can do for ourselves, have changed dramatically since 1948. In 1948 most of the food that you ate would have come from within two kilometres of your own home or, if you were in a city, five kilometres from your own home. It was all produced in Australia, and it was produced locally. Your food was of the highest standard, which enabled the very healthy growth of our broader community throughout that time. Since then, though, our food isn't necessarily local. It can come from interstate. It can come from around the world. And it's not necessarily seasonal, as all our food was. Why am I talking about food in relation to the PBS? Because, as our nutrition is less, as we eat more fats and sugars, we have a greater need for the Pharmaceutical Benefit Scheme to keep the health and wellbeing of our community in the state that it's in.

Of course I'm supportive of this legislation, and every government since 1948 has been supportive of the health and wellbeing of the Australian people however it's implemented. I'm not going to criticise any former government for what they did and didn't do with regard to health, because health expenditure has increased exponentially every year since 1948, and there have been massive changes made to the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme over the years. We now have remarkable new drugs that can change the lives of people in a week or so. And, of course, this PBS scheme is unique throughout the world. The Australian people, this nation, have the opportunity to access drugs for their health and wellbeing at a price that is affordable to every family. I know there are families out there today that have to choose between whether they buy food or their drugs, and we need to look more closely at how we can support those families. But, importantly, the PBS scheme has been crucial to the health and wellbeing of Australians for 73 years.

This general co-payment bill amends the National Health Act to reduce the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme general co-payment by $12.50, from the current amount of $42.50 to the new amount of $30, taking effect on 1 January. This is happening in a time when inflation is rampant and greater in the foods and commodities that families actually have to buy. We may have an inflation rate of around six or seven per cent, but the increases for the actual food that you need to buy, the food that is important for a family, are from 12 per cent in some cases to 23 per cent, and there are not the specials available in the supermarkets that were available. The costs have increased for families. So, at a time when families are under enormous pressure for their day-to-day living costs, this is a change that I support wholeheartedly—and I mean wholeheartedly.

The fact the government has moved one step further than the coalition was prepared to, by $2.50 or whatever it was, is irrelevant to me. This gives an opportunity for the Commonwealth to supplies of pharmaceutical benefits that have a Commonwealth price between $30 and $42.50 indexed annually. The bill also gives pharmacists an option to discount the price for general patients by more than a dollar when supplying a PBS prescription. It's really important that this bill will ensure no patient is worse off after the reduction of the general patient charge, and it is established practice for pharmacists to discount medicines that have a Commonwealth price at or below the general patient charge.

So, when it comes to individuals, every individual has an entirely different need under the PBS scheme. New drugs come on to the PBS after a lot of consideration by the committee that recommends to government. New drugs, especially in the areas of cancer, can make such a difference. There's also a safety net involved in here for families that have an ongoing need for medicines. So the reduction in the general patient charge will likely have an impact on the number of scripts a general patient can have filled before they reach the safety net threshold. However, with the reduction a patient will save $285.80 in out-of-pocket costs. So even though it will take you longer—because the price is cheaper—to get to the threshold where you no longer have to pay, you will save $285.80 in getting there. So there is some benefit to the patient.

The bill gives effect to an election commitment made by Labor in response to the coalition's leadership on the issue. On 30 April 2022 the coalition announced an election commitment to reduce the PBS general patient charge by $10. Following the announcement, on 1 May 2022 Labor announced that they would reduce the charge by $12.50. That's a difference of $2.50. I'm happy that they have been able to find the money to be able to reduce it by $12.50 because it's a benefit to a lot of people in my electorate. Why? Because I happen to have an electorate that has an older cohort of people than most other electorates in Australia. The electorate of Monash is older and I would like to think wiser—and that's why I'm still here, but that's probably not the truth. If they knew me well then I probably wouldn't be here, but I am here and I'm honoured to represent them. I do have an older cohort right across my electorate.

It's a regional rural electorate. At this point it hasn't had the massive growth that you are seeing in many electorates down the east coast of Australia and in Western Australia, but that is now encroaching in one part of the electorate—in the Drouin-Warragul area. Within a very short time those regional areas will become very large areas, which will bring the young families in

This change to the PBS will make an inordinate difference in my electorate because of its age cohort and the number of people over 55, over 65, over 75, in their 90s and in their 100s. I want to make a point about that. The PBS enables people to live longer because they are able to manage conditions that previous generations didn't have the opportunity or the drugs to manage. So they are living longer. Since I first started as the member for McMillan the number of people over 80 who I write to has increased. The number of letters I write to people in their 90s has also increased. There used to be very few in their 100s that I wrote to, but now the number has increased.

My community is not only ageing better but ageing well, and that's because of the PBS. They are able to get their drugs and organise the drugs that help their lifestyle. If you can help somebody's lifestyle, it will mean that they don't go into aged-care facilities earlier and it will mean they are a greater help to their family and are less of a burden.

What I'm saying is that the PBS enables our community to live well and to live longer. Therefore, that has benefits throughout the whole community because they are actively participating in the community and, therefore, they are a benefit not only to themselves but to their children and to their children's children. That's why the PBS has been such an integral part of the health and wellbeing of communities in my electorate and I'm sure in the electorate of every other member of this House.

The PBS is also very expensive for government. Many of the drugs people use cost thousands and thousands of dollars. When a government makes the decision to list a drug on the PBS that's your government taking responsibility for your health and wellbeing at a price way below the delivery price. That's why the government often negotiates for long periods of time with drug companies to make sure it is getting the best deal it can possibly get to bring the costs down as far as it possibly can while at the same time delivering the drugs for the benefit of our community. I think you'll find Australia is a great innovator when it comes to not only conducting research into new drugs but also introducing them as quickly as possible. Sometimes this is for the benefit of only a few people, but we have the luxury in this country of saying, 'One life, two lives, three lives are important.' I'm saying to the Australian people: you are important. I'm saying to my electorate: you are important. That's why the government continues to invest in the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme. We invest in it on behalf of families and we invest in it on behalf of very ill young children. This is a commitment to this scheme and to this reduction from all members of parliament, on both sides. Therefore, I support this legislation, I support the process that we go through and I support the ongoing benefits that this legislation will bring to families right across the electorate of Monash.

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Russell Broadbent MP
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