Mr RAMSEY (Grey—Opposition Whip) (13:24): It’s quite clear to me that this announcement in the budget is what I would call thought-bubble politics. It’s: ‘Hey, I’ve got a good idea. Let’s try it!’—trying it without consulting and with very little road testing or consideration of the consequences. On the face of it, we have something that looks like not a bad idea: two-month prescriptions. Certainly that’ll suit me okay, thank you, even though it would be fair to say that I probably don’t need a reduction in cost. Fewer visits to the pharmacy will save me time, and there will be a $1.2 billion saving to the budget over the forward estimates. What’s not to like? Let’s get out there and sell it. But let’s not tell the pharmacists. After all, they’re filthy, stinking rich, and they will only whinge about the changes.
But the government did not give the pharmacy industry sufficient insight into this change, and those on that side of the chamber have demonstrated that they have a dearth of practical experience. It’s fair to say they do have one member who, I believe, has been a pharmacist. I don’t think she’s speaking today on this bill. But if they’d thought this through, they may well have considered what impact the loss of income may have on community pharmacies.
There are visits to aged-care facilities. The previous member mentioned visits for aged-care facilities, and I’ll come back to them in a moment. There are hospital visits to inspect drug cabinets, dispensing dates, how staff are actually managing the dispensing of drugs and staff education. There are the blister packs. There is a payment for blister packs, but it will halve under this policy. I was speaking to a number of pharmacies in small towns who actually deliver the blister packs. There’s no payment for that. There’s a knock on the door: ‘How are you, Mrs Jones? Here’s your blister pack.’ That’s a very welcome call from the pharmacy and their staff. Furthermore, regular visits to the pharmacy—with stable pharmacists and stable workers—is a chance to size people up as they walk across the floor to you. Is that too much? Who knows?
I’ve taken quite a number of calls from pharmacists. They commonly expect to take a hit of a couple hundred thousand dollars to their bottom line on this and they’re now wondering what kind of impact that will have on the net worth of their business. It’s clear to me that, if this is a good idea, it should have been part of the Seventh Community Pharmacy Agreement, which will need to be negotiated again within the next 18 months. If there is to be a payment for aged-care visits or if there is to be an increased payment for blister packs, it should have been done at the same time that the government was proposing to slash their income. At the moment it has just caused a heap of instability.
I was speaking to a young pharmacist in a small country town. She has owned the pharmacy for four months. She bought it on the figures of the last two years. She has taken out a significant loan and she does not know the full impact on her business yet. I said to her, ‘What will you do?’ She said, ‘Something will probably have to go.’ I said, ‘Where do you go for that?’ She said, ‘It’ll have to be a staff member—or two—or perhaps I will have to get rid of my backfill pharmacist who gives me a holiday, because I don’t think I’ll be able to afford that, and we will have to get rid of some of the services that we are offering in the community for little or no pay, and that includes the aged-care visits.’ She certainly can’t see any savings—and this is a matter for another debate, I’m sure—in her electricity bill.
The predominance of PBS prescriptions go to the over-55s, and of course, as we age, the percentage of people on multiple prescriptions increases. It’s worth noting that the PBS safety net is at $262.80 at the moment, and many people on those concessions will meet that headline amount in April, May or even June. For those people, there will be no saving at all. It’ll be $262.80 this year, and it’ll be $262.80 under the changes. It is interesting that a government that says it is about addressing the cost of living is actually giving a break to someone like me and not to an age pensioner. It seems to be a very blunt way of addressing these issues, and that is why I say again that it should have been part of the seventh pharmacy agreement. This should be done in global consideration, not in a one-hit, out-here-on-its-own, thought-bubble process. That’s what you get when you don’t think through the processes. It seems to me there has been little consultation, no consideration and no plan.