Australian Health Minister Nicola Roxon is to meet with drugmakers, consumer groups and others tomorrow morning to hear their concerns about the government's plan to delay indefinitely the listing of new medicines on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS).
Medicines Australia, the Generic Medicines Industry Association, the Australian Medical Association, the Consumers Health Forum and other consumer groups have called on Ms Roxon, together with Treasurer Wayne Swan and Finance Minister Penny Wong, to explain to them "in person" why the federal cabinet is "usurping the role" of the independent Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee (PBAC), the government's expert committee which recommends new medicines and vaccines for listing on the PBS.
Consumers, clinicians and the companies who developed these medicines "are owed a proper explanation" as to why the government has ignored the PBAC’s advice, say the groups, who add that the government’s actions are putting the price of some treatments beyond the reach of many sick and vulnerable people.
A number of drugmakers have also warned that the new hurdle of cabinet approval could be a factor in whether or not they decide to apply for their products to be subsidised by the PBS.
The current list of delayed medicines are used to treat conditions such as lung disease, chronic pain, schizophrenia and enlarged prostate. A catch-up vaccine to prevent pneumococcal disease in you children has also been delayed. This week, a further seven new drugs have been recommended by the PBAC for PBS listing, including treatments for colon cancer, multiple sclerosis, cystic fibrosis and other diseases.
For the cabinet to be choosing to list some medicines on the PBS and not others "raises the question of what expertise and experience they have that enables them to make decisions that contradict the advice of their own expert committee of clinicians and health economists," say the groups, and they accuse the government of "bringing politics into what was an effective and de-politicised process."
Unless the government reverts to the usual practice of accepting the PBAC's recommendations and only requiring cabinet approval for treatments costing A$10 million or more in one year, increasing numbers of medicines will be held up in cabinet, leaving more consumers without access to medicines that the PBAC has determined should be publicly available, they add.
"We are all aware that the government has short-term budgetary imperatives and that it is important that the cost of our health system does not spiral out of our control, But it is hard to believe that Australia's fiscal situation is so bad that we need to deny important medicines to sick people," say the groups.