COST OF MEDICINE

Pre­scrip­tion drugs can swal­low a large chunk of the house­hold bud­get. Here’s how to re­duce your spend­ing on meds with­out risk­ing your health. By An­gela Tufves­son

Sunday Mail - Body and Soul - - FRONT PAGE -

Even though many pre­scrip­tion medicines in Aus­tralia are cov­ered by the Phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal Ben­e­fits Scheme (PBS), the cost can add up – es­pe­cially if you’re tak­ing more than one medicine over a long pe­riod.

“Ev­ery day, peo­ple come into our phar­ma­cies with four or five items on the pre­scrip­tion, but they say they only want to take three to­day and ask which one they can do with­out,” Paul Sin­clair, from The Phar­macy Guild of Aus­tralia, says. “For peo­ple with chronic dis­eases and peo­ple with young chil­dren who may not be cov­ered by con­ces­sion cards, it be­comes an ex­pen­sive is­sue.”

Ac­cord­ing to con­sumer group Choice, 63 per cent of Aus­tralians are wor­ried about the cost of medicines. “We know that medicine prices are one of the top cost-of-liv­ing con­cerns,” Tom God­frey, from Choice, says. “Any­thing you can do to re­duce the cost of med­i­ca­tion is go­ing to take the pres­sure off your house­hold bud­get.”

When a phar­ma­cist asks if you’d like the generic ver­sion of a medicine, they’re not try­ing to sell you an in­fe­rior “home brand” equiv­a­lent prod­uct to boost store prof­its. In fact, generic drugs are ex­actly the same as branded ones – and typ­i­cally a lot cheaper.

Newly de­vel­oped drugs are pro­tected by a patent – usu­ally for 20 to 25 years – that pro­hibits other com­pa­nies from selling the medicine so the man­u­fac­turer can re­coup its in­vest­ment costs. Once the patent ex­pires, how­ever, other com­pa­nies can ap­ply for gov­ern­ment ap­proval to sell com­pet­ing generic drugs. And be­cause they don’t need to fork out on re­search to de­velop the drug, the price usu­ally drops.

“For a generic medicine to be dis­pensed in place of the orig­i­nal brand, it has to have un­der­gone thor­ough test­ing and has to be ap­proved by the reg­u­la­tor,” Sarah Spag­nardi, a phar­ma­cist and man­ager of Medicines Line from NPS MedicineWise, says.

“It’s not pos­si­ble for phar­ma­cists to de­cide to give you another brand – it’s ac­tu­ally very tightly reg­u­lated so there’s clin­i­cal ev­i­dence that the medicine has the same ac­tive in­gre­di­ent in­cluded and will do the same job as the orig­i­nal brand.”

Plus, bear in mind that once a generic ver­sion of a med­i­ca­tion is avail­able, the gov­ern­ment is un­likely to sub­sidise the orig­i­nal ver­sion through the PBS if it re­mains more ex­pen­sive than its new generic com­peti­tor.

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