The cost of prescription drugs in Australia has jumped by nearly $5 billion since July, and while some doctors have begun rationing prescriptions to ensure patients are treated as best as possible, others are taking advantage of the opportunity to boost sales.
The Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme, which provides drug discounts to those who can pay, saw a record-high annual growth rate of 18 per cent between June and July, according to the Pharmaceutical Benefits Agency.
It’s no coincidence that the rise has coincided with a surge in the number of prescriptions.
Between July 1 and July 23, the number per 1,000 Australians who had a prescription for a drug rose by just 1.4 per cent, while prescriptions for painkillers increased by 3.5 per cent.
This was a jump of 20 per cent in a matter of weeks, the Pharmaceutical Benefit Agency said.
The reason behind the increase in demand is two-fold: the higher prices of generic drugs and the rising cost of non-prescription drugs.
The price of a generic drug was up 12 per cent last year to $2,945 per pill, according the Pharmaceutical Industry Organisation.
Non-prescriptive drugs are the drugs used by patients who have not sought a doctor’s prescription, so there is less need for expensive pharmaceuticals.
This can also mean that the prices of the non-generic drugs are likely to increase as the pharmaceutical industry becomes more efficient, and companies offer lower prices, according Dr Robert Bader, chief executive of the Pharmaceutical Policy Alliance.
“That’s the key reason why prices are rising,” he said.
“A big reason is the cost of medicines is rising, and it’s driving people to get them at a lower price.”
Dr Bader said there was a real opportunity for generic drugs to become more affordable.
“There’s going to be a lot of consolidation in the pharmaceutical sector, and generic drugs are going to become the norm,” he told news.com.au.
“The only way they’re going to stay competitive is to get cheaper.”
The Pharmaceutical Association of Australia (PAA) says there are two main reasons for the increase: higher generic prices and greater competition.
“It’s a result of the cost-cutting that’s occurred in the generic drugs industry, and a reduction in the supply of nongeneric medicines,” Dr Bader explained.
“And the reason for that is that the supply is increasing.”
The PAA says generic drugs account for less than 0.1 per cent of the Australian pharmacy network, and that there are more than 200 generic drugs available in Australia, making them a huge cost-saving option.
“You can use a generic and it won’t cost as much as a nonpreferred drug,” Dr Dutton said.
“So, that’s a really significant benefit of generic medicine.”
But the PAA warns there are also several potential drawbacks to generic medicine.
“People who don’t have the option of getting a non-preferred product may not be able to afford to pay for it,” Dr Fergusson said.
A new generation of medicines has emerged that have better features, such as better bioavailability, which allows patients to take more medications, and longer shelf life.
“They’re also more likely to be available over a longer period of time, which is also great for people who have problems getting on medications,” Dr Larkin said.
But it is not just generic drugs that are rising in cost.
Drugs with the words “new drugs” in the name are being priced much higher than they were before, with a range of new drugs rising from about $50 to $600 per pill.
“Some of these new drugs are in the process of being withdrawn from the market,” Dr Gillett said.
One of the reasons for that, Dr FERGUSON said, is the need for more people to seek prescription drugs.
“We’re going through a shortage in the numbers of people who can access our services,” she said.
In some states, people are now taking out long-term loans to fund the cost.
“If you look at the average length of the loan, it’s about two years, so it’s a pretty high cost,” Dr MATTERS said.
Dr MATTES said there is also an additional cost associated with prescription drugs, including lab fees and hospitalisations.
“What’s happened in Australia is the price of prescription medicines has increased by $5.5 billion in the past year,” he explained.
This is despite the fact that Australia is among the best countries in the world when it comes to healthcare access, Dr MATES said.
And he said there are plenty of options out there to help patients in the meantime.
“I think we’re seeing a shift away from prescription drug affordability,” he added.
“Now people are going into hospitals to get a prescription.
There are other options, including pharmacy-owned and funded, that can be very cost-effective.”