Topics: New PBS listings; Medicare and private health insurance.
The Health Minister Greg Hunt has announced PBS listings of drugs that will make the lives of patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, diabetes and a number of other conditions such as brain tumour and inflammatory disease easier.
It’s good to hear that these medicines will change the lives of many patients.
Joining us today on the line, federal Member for Flinders, the Health Minister, Greg Hunt. Good morning, Minister and thank you for your time.
Good morning, Suzan, and it’s an absolute privilege to join you.
And these medicines are just immensely important for people around Australia and it doesn’t matter where we are and who we are, the conditions such as cystic fibrosis or, tragically, brain cancer or leukaemia can strike any of us anywhere, and so to have medicines which would otherwise have cost tens of thousands of dollars available now for $6.50 or $40.30 just changes the lives for people everywhere.
Minister, you served as Minister for the Environment, Minister for Industry, Innovation and Science and Minister for Health since January 2017. You are a hardworking politician, working to deliver a world class health system for Australia.
First of all, congratulations on your new post. And can you tell us about your new role in Government and the main challenges towards the health system in Australia?
Well, look, thank you very much. They’re very generous comments and it’s an absolute privilege to be able to serve in Parliament and then to serve in this role.
For me, I have, as my primary role, the Health Minister’s role.
What that means is that that’s about making sure that we have patients have access to doctors and nurses and medicines and in particular, we’ve been focusing on new medicines for glioblastomas, which is just a terribly tragic brain tumour condition; or new medicines for acute lymphoblastic leukaemia, which again is a very aggressive form of leukaemia, and they’re available.
But then, we’re working on mental health and medical research as well, and mental health can strike people of any age, any background, male, female, so it’s something again which can strike anybody.
One of the things I would love to do with you and your program is to reach out to people who might come from a non-English speaking background and might feel that the system isn’t open to them and we really want them to feel that for mental health, they can see their GP.
If they’re younger, they can go to headspace. These services are really designed to assist people from every walk of life.
Sometimes, there can be cultural stigma attached to mental health and there shouldn’t be and I think we want to help break that down and say to everybody: it can happen to me, it can happen to you and there’s no shame or stigma in seeking help.
It’s just a powerful and immensely important first step to seek that help.
Minister, we know that the Federal Government is committed to increasing the number of PBS listings and keeping the promises of cheaper medicine. This is all good.
Can you tell us how many brands of medicine the PBS does cover? And what are the new listings? You’ve mentioned some of them.
And how many people are you expecting to benefit from the latest listings?
Sure. So, we’ve added 2100 medicines to what’s called the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme.
For those that don’t know, the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme or the PBS is the way the Government subsidises medicines.
And so, we’ve just provided medicines that will cover over 2000 people with brain cancer, with leukaemia, with intestinal cancers and then with a form of arthritis of the giant cells called arteritis; and then that comes on top of the fact that we’ve had tens of thousands of patients who will benefit from new medicines recently, only a month ago, for severe acne, for depression and for lung cancer.
So, these things are just so, so important. They change lives.
And perhaps the one that has meant the most to me because I’ve met the beautiful little kids who’ve been affected is the medicine for cystic fibrosis; and cystic fibrosis is effectively thick, heavy mucus on the lungs but it can be catastrophic and that would cost $300,000 a year for this medicine and this is for 12 to 24-month-old beautiful little infants.
And without this, no family could afford it and now will take a medicine from $300,000 for cystic fibrosis down to $6.50, and that’s the mark of a really caring, good society.
Yeah. Listings, these expensive medicines of PBS, does it mean that we have a very strong economy?
It does mean that we have a strong economy.
We know that, sadly and very disappointingly, in 2011 the then Labor government stopped listing medicines. They said because of fiscal circumstances which effectively means that they ran out of money and blew the budget.
Fortunately, we have both the strong economy and the commitment to list all of the new medicines. And so, that’s almost the Prime Minister’s number one example of why we have a strong economy beyond the individual dignity and independence which comes with employment.
Minister, last week NIB manager Mark Fitzgibbon said that Australia should scrap Medicare.
And put everyone on private health insurance. Does this work when lots of people are leaving the private health insurance, simply because it’s very expensive, they can’t afford it – and the young Australians also think that they don’t need it, and others think that they are better off not to have private health insurance.
How would you comment on that?
No, no, it doesn’t work, and we’ve rejected that idea.
I mean, the strength of the Australian system – and many of our listeners will have experienced different systems around the world – the strength of the Australian system is, in my view, it’s neither the privatised American model nor the nationalised British model, and I respect those systems but I think for Australia we have a far better fit for us where we have an underlying universal healthcare system with Medicare, which means anybody can go to the doctor, and we have the option of private health insurance.
And 50 per cent of people who have private health insurance earn under $50,000, so many lower income people value it and they make the choice to invest in it, and then we subsidise that for lower income Australians.
But our task is to help put the system in place, which will continue to bring down the cost pressures on private health.
We now have the lowest price changes in 18 years, and I’m pushing for further and better outcomes. But at the same time, we have-
How are you going to do that, Minister? In terms of reforms to make private health insurance accessible?
So what we’ve just done is we’ve simplified it with a gold, silver, and bronze system, so that everybody knows what’s in and what’s not in for the first time. We’ve added mental health for young people with the ability to get much faster treatment for mental health. And we’ve added discounts for young people.
We’ve also helped pull out some of the costs through reducing the cost of what are called prostheses or devices; things such as stents, or ablation catheters, which are really about helping somebody with their blood flow, or it could be prosthetic limbs.
All of these things are now cheaper than they would otherwise have been. So that helps drive down the pressures on private health insurance.
So, it’s an immensely important question that you ask, and I know there are so many small business families in your listening audience that value this, and older Australians that value it.
So our job is to make sure it’s available, and that the- this is why it’s the lowest price change in 18 years.
The Parliament is sitting this week. What are your next priorities, Minister?
So, right now what we’re doing is ensuring that small business owners and people involved in building construction can have safe workplaces.
We want to make sure that there’s action taken against union intimidation.
We don’t want a society where there can be union intimidation, so- to deal with thugs, to deal with intimidation, to deal with standover actions, these are our number one priorities this week.
And so that’s exactly what the Prime Minister is doing.
Thank you so much for your time, Minister.
My total privilege, it’s an absolute- you know, I really love speaking with you guys, so at any time. Take care.
Thank you so much. That was Greg Hunt, the Health Minister.