Health Minister Greg Hunt hints at no major shake-up, but trade-offs will be made.
Attempting to allay fears of a major pharmacy sector shake-up, the Federal Health Minister has said he will take a ‘conservative’ approach to some of the ‘quite radical’ King Review recommendations.
‘My primary objective … is to ensure that you have security and continuity to get on with your business,’ Minister Hunt told a Terry White Chemmart Masterclass earlier this month.
‘There were some recommendations which were quite radical and which would have shaken the pharmacy sector up. I’ve taken a fairly conservative approach.’
Minister Hunt announced that the government’s response to the King Review of Pharmacy Remuneration and Regulation would be released mid-May, once final Cabinet agreement had been secured.
While Minister Hunt refused to ‘pre-empt’ the government response, he has reassured pharmacists that recommendations around location rules have already been ‘effectively rejected’.
‘We’ve already legislated successfully on that front by taking away the sunset clause,’ he said.
‘We’ve also struck an agreement recently … around bunny-hopping and other location rule outcomes.’
It does seem, however, that the $1 discount on patient co-payments for PBS scripts may stay in some shape or form.
‘I am very alert that I have responsibilities both to pharmacies and to patients and what I’m trying to do is ensure that there’s a major injection of funds [to pharmacies], but not increasing costs for patients,’ Minster Hunt said when asked about the controversial measure brought in as part of the Sixth Community Pharmacy Agreement (CPA).
‘The quid-pro-quo for that might well be the location rules.’
High-cost medicines relief
Pharmacists, meanwhile, can look forward to relief around the carrying costs of high-cost medicines.
The Minister has indicated an agreement will be announced by the time the new financial year rolls around.
‘[It] will significantly reduce the carrying cost of high-cost medicines so that you don’t have the out-of-pocket risks. In terms of your cashflow, that is a very important outcome,’ he said.
Ongoing wait for Medicare provider numbers
The Minister has delivered a very frank assessment of the prospects of pharmacists receiving Medicare provider numbers any time soon.
‘The honest answer is that would be hard,’ he said.
‘I would say it is not going to happen overnight and it is not something that I want to make a false promise on.’
Community pharmacies, however, could expect some funding relief in the form of preventive health pharmacy-programs.
‘Generous’ funding for pharmacy programs
Acknowledging the success of government-funded expanded care programs – such as Home Medicine Reviews, and diabetes screening – Minister Hunt said the next CPA would include ‘generous’ funding to promote preventive health.
‘The next wave of activity that we would look at supporting is further preventive health work – whether that’s in terms of mental health, obesity and steps that can be taken through effectively becoming a community hub,’ he said.
He encouraged pharmacists to come forward with proposals.
‘If you come forward with good ideas then through the agreements we actually have a mechanism to deliver on that. It’s an open invitation but it’s not a blank cheque,’ he said.
Pharmacies to deliver point-of-care diagnosis?
Future expanded care opportunities for pharmacies could also lie in point-of-care diagnosis, Minister Hunt has indicated.
‘As you do your planning … I would stretch the horizon to think ‘what are our point of care diagnostic options in terms of the great new waves of pathology?’,’ he suggested.
‘I would urge you to look at those opportunities in the planning, to expand what you do as pharmacies.’