Parliament Updates

Zali Steggall speaks in support of reducing maximum co-payments

28 September 2022

I rise to speak in support of the National Health Amendment (General Co-payment) Bill 2022. I welcome the measures on behalf of the people of Warringah. These measures are intended to ease in a small way the cost of living crisis that affects so many Australians. I have to say that I was shocked and disappointed to learn the extent to which people have been impacted by the cost of the current general co-payment. When we are provided with the numbers, it is quite staggering to understand the extent to which it has had an impact.

Easy access to healthcare should be a right afforded to all in Australia. Unfortunately, it's clear that the current co-payment of $42.50 per script has been too expensive for a large segment of our population. Reducing the maximum co-payment to a capped $30 per script will be a welcome relief to many people.

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, some 900,000 Australians either delayed purchasing medication or missed script refills altogether between 2019 and 2020 due to the prohibitive costs of medicines on the PBS. That's a shocking number. It's unacceptable that any Australian should be forced to forego regular health care due to costs. It's not the Australia that we aspire to or the goal of legislation in this place.

So I welcome the 29 per cent saving on PBS medicine costs that will benefit Australians and help to ease some of the cost of living strains currently experienced. We must remember that patients are often prescribed multiple concurrent scripts at a time. Some one in five Australians live with chronic conditions that require perpetual treatment. While we are incredibly lucky to have subsidised health care in Australia, the cost of the general co-payment, when applied to each script, can add up very quickly. It can be a substantial cost to individuals to keep themselves and their families healthy. We should not and cannot allow health care to be unaffordable even under a subsidised scheme. If passed—and I sincerely hope it will be, as this should have the bipartisan support of everyone in this place—the bill will positively impact approximately 19 million Australians, who will be eligible for savings when accessing medicines on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme. The savings to individuals will be substantial, with those filling a single monthly script estimated to save nearly $150 per year. For those filling multiple scripts each month, the savings will continue to increase accordingly.

I support the bill, and I urge the government to ensure that access to medications is not compromised with a more affordable cost. We must ensure supply always meets demand, and we may see a sharp increase in uptake. I certainly hope that there's been preparation for this. I seek the government's assurance that the co-payment reduction is the most efficient way to improve affordability to PBS medication. Affordable access to health care needs to be the core goal of the amendment, with the benefits being afforded directly to the Australian public.

In Warringah, constituents seek my help to combat cost-of-living pressures. Many are doing it tough. It's expected that things will get worse. We need to appease cost-of-living pressures. I certainly hope there will be more announcements from the government in the upcoming budget. But, in the meantime, I believe this bill seeks to do this in part and is a good first step. The government needs to implement this correctly and thoughtfully to ensure access and quality is not compromised at any stage, of course. It's not a luxury to have access to quality health care. It always must be ensured. As federal representatives in this place, we must implement reasonable improvements to access and affordability to health care. I'm aware there are many more things that need to be addressed and changed, but I welcome this initial step. I commend the bill to the House