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
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.