Three consumer groups have joined forces to campaign against what they say are the high prices of prices of prescription medicines in Australia

The Consumers Health Forum (CHF) of Australia, Choice and the Australian Council of Social Service say people are paying up to 10 times the British price for the same medicine.

Carol Bennett of the CHF says they want the cost of medicines to become an election issue.

"We're calling on Australians to email their election candidates to stand up for cheaper medicines," she says.

The consumer groups want the Government to continue to accelerate price disclosure, which was announced in the days before the election date was set.

It is also calling for the cost of medicines, paid for under the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS), to be brought more into line with what pharmacy owners pay for them.

Ms Bennett says: "We know that up to 15 per cent of Australians struggle to fill their scripts because of the high cost of medicines and it's not appropriate that we should have to pay these inflated prices on a continuing basis."

The CHF, Choice and ACOSS say independent health experts estimate if Australia was to pay the same prices as New Zealand for our medicines, $1 billion a year would be saved off the cost of the PBS.

They say those savings could be used to finance new health services and the listing of new drugs.

As part of the campaign they are urging people not to sign what it calls a "misleading" petition, circulated by the Pharmacy Guild, which has publicly asked each member pharmacy to get 300 signatures to call for a change to price disclosure. 

"Pharmacies and the Pharmacy Guild think they have a right and an expectation to make a reasonable profit, but I would argue it should not come at the expense of Australian taxpayers who are under writing those profits," she said.

"The Guild are wanting to maintain their current level of profit, if they want an industry assistance package they should go to Government and outline their profitability and organise an industry assistance package because the PBS is not intended to be an industry assistance package, it's supposed to subsidise the true cost of medicine."

A statement from the Pharmacy Guild said the claim pharmacies are urging political parties to "back away" from the price disclosure mechanism for PBS medicines – leading to more expensive medicines for consumers - was a "deliberate untruth".

"Pharmacists want patients and consumers to be able to access essential medicines at an affordable price," the statement said.

"The Guild supports the objectives of price disclosure and cheaper prescription medicines and we have worked closely with government over many years to achieve that.

"However, unless pharmacists are paid adequately to dispense medicines, patients will lose out through reduced services and opening hours, jobs will be lost, and some pharmacies may be forced to close."

 

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