Federal Budget 2023: Impact on pharmacy

Handing down the Federal Budget on 9 May 2023, the Hon Dr Jim Chalmers MP has confirmed the previously announced changes to dispensing.

From 1 September the 60-day dispensing policy will come into effect, allowing the purchase of two month’s worth of medicine for the price of a single prescription.

“From September this year, patients will be able to get more of the medicine they need for less money and less hassle,” Dr Chalmers said.

“Instead of having to go back to their pharmacist every month, many people with common chronic illnesses will be able to get two months’ worth of treatment for over 300 different medicines.”

While this is a cost-saving win for patients, expecting to save patients “up to $180 a year”, there is concern among pharmacy industry leaders.

‘Patients will be worse off’ 

Addressing the Federal Budget announcement National President of the Pharmacy Guild of Australia Professor Trent Twomey says these “unprecedented changes” will impact the ability of millions of Australians “to get their medicines, advice and services from their local pharmacist”.

“Unless the Federal Government provides a guarantee that no patient and no community pharmacy will be worse off under their new medicine policy then millions of people in every single community in Australia will be worse off,” he said.

“The Government’s $3.5 billion cut will unfortunately mean pharmacists will need to make tough decisions that will see some shut their doors and others shut on weekends, opening later in the morning or closing early in the evening and it will mean patients miss out on vital medicines and health services.

“These are unprecedented changes that will fundamentally change the way patients get medicine and access support from their local pharmacist.”

Welcoming the Government’s move to reform the health system, Mr Twomey says it’s counterintuitive for the Federal Government to announce these reforms, which include more support for Medicare, while at the same time forcing pharmacists to cut services.

“We welcome moves by the Government to reform the health system but at the same time they are asking 6000 pharmacies to support more patients while cutting 50% of their funding, it doesn’t add up,” he said.

“Because the Federal Government is not reinvesting all the money they are taking out, as the Department of Health data provided to the Guild shows, pharmacists only have two options – to close or reduce hours and services.

“If the Federal Government wants to actually reinvest the money taken out, they will need to fund at least $3.5 billion back into community pharmacies over the next four years.”

‘Expecting more with less’ 

National President of the Pharmaceutical Society of Australia (PSA) Dr Fei Sim says “there must be a pragmatic understanding by the Government that community pharmacy can’t be expected to do more with less”.

“Our patients expect more, our pharmacists want to do more, and our healthcare system needs pharmacists to be supported now more than ever,” Dr Sim said.

“Now is the time for real discussions about the impact of this announcement on patients and how we can move forward with the Government to ensure that no patients and no pharmacists are worse off.”

Dr Sim says that while the Government has committed to the 60-day dispensing policy, the “details of implementation and reinvestment into the profession is where the real impacts will be”.

“This reinvestment must be new money into pharmacy and not recycled from funds being removed,” Dr Sim said.

“We need to ensure the reinvestment is sufficient to maintain the viability of the community pharmacy network, not a redistribution or replacement of patient co-payment, and pharmacists are not short-changed.”

Addressing the PSA in a statement released tonight (9 May) Dr Sim continued:

“I understand this is a stressful and uncertain time for everyone. I am here, with our PSA team, on the ground, in Canberra, to continue this fight. I can assure you that we are working with key partners, to ensure our patients are not disadvantaged and that pharmacists have a certain future.

“We are taking the strongest action possible. This week we are meeting politicians and partners to influence the implementation of this policy and protect the interests of patients and pharmacists. Your concerns are being heard in the halls of Parliament House.

“Please allow me to reiterate that this policy impacts every single one of us – whether you are a community pharmacist, pharmacy owner, accredited pharmacist, hospital pharmacist, aged care pharmacist or embedded pharmacist … every pharmacist, at every stage of our career. We must stay united – one pharmacy profession.”

Other measures affecting pharmacy  

The PSA has outlined the other measures outlined in the Federal Budget that will affect pharmacists.

These include:

  • $114.1 million over 4 years for pharmacists to administer vaccines under the National Immunisation Program (limited by state-based legislation).
  • $377.3 million over 4 years to reform Opioid Dependence Treatment (ODT) access.
  • $79.5 million over 4 years to double the Regional Pharmacy Maintenance Allowance.
  • $111.8 million over 4 years to provide electronic-prescription delivery infrastructure and services, including mandating the use of e-prescribing for high-risk and high-cost medicines subsidised under the PBS.

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