Pharmacy turf wars rekindled in election for cheaper drugs

Trent Twomey, president of the Pharmacy Guild.Credit:

He said the guild was “in daily conversation with both sides of the aisle right now about this,” but dismissed a sun herald report that the pharmacists had been so enraged by the omission from the budget that the guild had donated $250,000 to the Labor Party as “totally bogus”.

Chemist Warehouse operations manager Mario Tascone said the guild’s proposal was “a Trojan horse that’s basically a way for the government to subsidize them with discounts, to compete with discounters where they’re losing out. market share”.

“If you want to save taxpayers’ money, get rid of pharmacy location laws and we’ll open up all the suburbs and everyone will get discounted PBS scripts,” Tascone said.

“We get a lot of drugs that cost $30 from other pharmacies and sell them for less than $10.”

He said Chemist Warehouse would cut further if allowed, pointing to New Zealand where the retailer dispenses prescription drugs to the patient for free, only pocketing the government subsidy.

The Australian Medical Association has also called for location rules, which prohibit the opening of new pharmacies within 1.5 kilometers of an existing pharmacy, to restrict ownership to pharmacists and limit online sales to physical operators, are deleted.

Annie McPherson, from Melbourne, spends around $300 a month on medication.

Annie McPherson, from Melbourne, spends around $300 a month on medication. Credit:Luis Enrique Ascui

The president of the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners, Karen Price, said that for people “who are not very well off but do not qualify for terms or discounts, $40 per script can get expensive”. She said the tendency for patients to skip medication due to cost was concerning.

“We want all Australians to have the same access to care,” Price said.

Annie McPherson, 65, from Kew in Melbourne, said the government should make PBS drugs cheaper for people like her “who have multiple chronic conditions that won’t go away in three months”.

McPherson, who doesn’t shop at discount pharmacies and has a trusting relationship with her regular pharmacist, spends about $300 a month on drugs to treat conditions including ankylosing spondylitis, a chronic autoimmune disease.


Former health department secretary Stephen Duckett said that instead of reducing co-payments, it would be better for GPs to screen patients on more than five drugs; those deemed to need a lot of drugs should be allowed to pay the concessionary price of $6.80.

Duckett said the policy abandoned by the Coalition in 2019 after pressure from the guild, which would have doubled the number of tablets that could be dispensed in a single trip to the pharmacist – halving dispensing costs – would have improved affordability medication.

A spokesman for Health Minister Greg Hunt said the government is “still considering how to make drugs more affordable, which is why we have lowered the safety net”.


He said the guild’s proposal to reduce co-payments would increase prices for some patients. An analysis showed that up to 2 million people would be worse off “due to the impact on discounting and competition from PBS scripts”.

In the March budget, the government reduced the number of blanket scripts patients must pay by 12 before the PBS backstop comes into effect, which is expected to save 2.4 million people in average $80 per year once they have spent $1450 out of pocket in one year.

For concession cardholders, who account for 91% of scripts issued, the backstop threshold will be reduced by 25% from the current amount of $326.40 to $244.80.

The guild is a major political donor and one of the most feared lobby groups in the country.

In a speech at the Australian Pharmacy Professional conference on March 25, Hunt said the government had supported community pharmacists in a “unique partnership” because “it’s not just a business, it’s a health service” .

Under the 7th Community Pharmacy Agreement which began in 2020 and will run until mid-2025, the Commonwealth will pay pharmacists over $18 billion.

Jacqueline Maley cuts through the noise of the federal election campaign with news, opinion and expert analysis. Sign up for our Australia Votes 2022 newsletter here.

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