Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme

31 Oct 2019 speech

I am pleased to speak on this motion today, because it gives me the opportunity to highlight some of the fantastic work our government is doing in this area.
The Morrison Liberal government has a strong record of delivering more medicines through the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme and making those medicines more accessible and more affordable for Australians. We are listing all medicines that are recommended by the Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee on the PBS as a matter of policy. Since 2013, our policy has resulted in approximately 2,200 new or amended medical listings on the PBS, valued at around $10.6 billion. This is an average of around 30 new or amended listings per month, or approximately one per day.

Just yesterday, the health minister announced the addition of cystic fibrosis medicine SYMDEKO for patients over the age of 12 with specific gene mutations. The minister also announced that the listing for the medicine ORKAMBI would be expanded for children between the ages of two and five years old. This is expected to provide new or improved treatment options for over 1,400 people who might otherwise pay up to $250,000 a year. We are also helping 3,000 women with breast cancer by subsidising the medicine KISQALI, which, without subsidy, can cost more than $71,000 per year. We are also subsidising SPINRAZA for Australian children with spinal muscular atrophy, which would otherwise cost these families more than $367,000 a year. Clearly, that is
completely out of reach for pretty much every single Australian. The cost of accessing these medicines without subsidy would just be completely prohibitive for these individuals and for these families.

Make no mistake: these listings make a life-changing difference to these people who need the medicines, to their families and to their friends. That's why our government is committed to continuing our strong record of making more medicines available to more people. In order to do this, we are lowering the PBS safety net threshold amounts for concessional and general patients and their families from 1 January 2020. This will benefit up to around 1.6 million concessional patients and 129,000 general patients, allowing them to reach the PBS safety net sooner and reducing their out-of-pocket costs. We can do all of this because of our government's strong economic management. When we have a strong economy we can afford to invest in essential services like hospitals, like Medicare and like the PBS.

We don't have to look back too far, unfortunately, to understand the impact of poor economic management on delivering medicines to those who need them. Last time the Labor government, those opposite, were in government they reversed the policy of the coalition to list all medicines approved by the independent Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee, because they couldn't manage the economy. On 25 February 2011, Labor announced the unprecedented deferral of the listing of seven medicines under the PBS for conditions such as severe asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, endometriosis, IVF treatment and schizophrenia. In 2011, Labor's then health minister, Nicola Roxon, said:
"Ultimately I think the important point is that we can't in every instance guarantee that a drug will be listed immediately because there are financial consequences for doing that …" In other words, due to their own financial mismanagement Labor stopped listing medicines approved by the PBAC in an attempt to cut costs.

This motion is yet another attempt by Labor to play politics with an issue of critical importance to so many Australians, but it does, however, give me an opportunity to remind those opposite of some facts about the process for the addition of medicines to the PBS for the benefit of so many Australians. By law, the government cannot list a medicine on the PBS unless it has been recommended by the Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee. The PBAC meet three times per year to consider and recommend medicines for listing on the PBS. The time it takes for a medicine to be listed following a PBAC recommendation is usually determined by the approach of the sponsoring pharmaceutical company.

I will finish by saying that the PBS needs a responsible government managing a strong economy, and that is exactly what the Liberal Morrison government is delivering.