The Hon. Greg Hunt MP
Minister for Health
9 June 2020
INTERVIEW WITH BEN FORDHAM
Topics: New Alzheimer’s Drug, MBS Review, NSW Quarantine Facility
Now, we told you yesterday about this claim out of the US about a minor breakthrough in the treatment for Alzheimer’s.
Around half a million Australians have Alzheimer’s, and US health regulators have approved a new drug that’s been shown to slow the disease in its early stages.
Now, it’s called Aduhelm. There are doubts over how well it works, but the Food and Drug Administration in America has said, look, we’re better off giving it a go than not giving it a go.
We thought we’d check in with the Federal Health Minister on that front and many others this morning. I’m happy to say that Greg Hunt is live on the line. Good morning to you, Minister.
And good morning, Ben.
So are we a chance of giving this drug a go here in Australia, considering the number of people down under who’ve got Alzheimer’s?
Look, we are. So, as you say, Aduhelm has gone to our medical regulator, it’s the Therapeutic Goods Administration, or the TGA. It’s only recently been submitted.
We have nearly half a million people with Alzheimer’s in Australia. And so there is some debate about how effective it is. But that’s why we’ve got the medical regulators, and if they approve it and then what’s called the Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee, then we won’t hesitate to list it.
It’s a sign of hope. I met with the company a few years ago when they were developing it. Other companies have pulled out of dementia and Alzheimer’s medicines research because they found it too hard.
One of the great challenges in medicine but Biogen’s found a pathway. And so I really hope it is approved. But it’s an independent medical regulator and if they do approve it, then we’ll list it and make it available on the PBS.
Okay. Only a small glimmer of hope. But then again, people are looking for something.
Now, doctors aren’t happy about the changes to the Medicare Benefits Scheme. Are Medicare rebates for hip and shoulder replacements being changed, and if so, how much will people pay on top of what they currently do?
So we’ve actually reached agreement yesterday with the AMA. They’re happy to accept all of the changes, they’d previously done that.
In fact, most things are going up. So, for example, if you’re talking about shoulders, the collarbone fracture rebate’s going up from $116 to $235, so it’s almost doubling. The knee replacement is going up from $463 to $756.
And so what you see is that all up, there’s an additional $6 billion in Medicare in this Budget only a month ago and $711 million specifically for new and amended Medicare items.
So who are the patients likely to pay more when it comes to the gap?
We’re hopeful that nobody pays any more, for the very reason that what we have here is an assessment of the safety, the efficacy, the relevance of Medicare items.
We’ve got over 168 new items. And then in some cases where there’s what’s called low value care, where the medical expert panel known as the Medical Services Advisory Committee reviews things, they will say that an old procedure is not necessarily appropriate anymore.
And so they are updated, new procedures are put in place and that’s what’s happened. And the AMA has put out a joint release with me overnight, accepting all of the changes, but making sure that we’ve got a great process is working together going forward.
So I think that’s a very good outcome for patient safety and patient access, a lot of new procedures and increased rebates in many, many places.
We’re chatting to Greg Hunt, the Federal Health Minister. Minister, the Federal Government is under some pressure to build a quarantine facility for Sydney.
You’re building one for Melbourne to look after 500 returning travellers. The Premier in New South Wales, Gladys Berejiklian, points out that we’re currently got 5,000 people in hotel quarantine, and we certainly take the heavy load, which you always acknowledge as the Federal Minister.
So if a purpose-built facility is to be created in New South Wales, Gladys Berejiklian wants you to build it and you to run it. Fair enough?
So, first thing is New South Wales has exactly as you say and as the Prime Minister and I’ve said myself on many occasions, they’ve done the heavy lifting for Australia. They’ve done nearly half of all of it- all of the returning passengers to Australia.
The second thing is that at this stage, the PM confirmed in discussions with the Premier that New South Wales isn’t proposing, nor is the Commonwealth seeking from New South Wales a facility like that.
The New South Wales system is working very, very well. But we’ll work with any state or territory on proposals.
But it’s not a long term solution. I mean, forget about what Gladys is saying to the Prime Minister, it’s not a long term solution to have thousands of people staying in hotels in Sydney.
Quarantine is a federal issue. So as the Federal Health Minister, wouldn’t you say, as a long term solution, it would be smarter to build something that is purpose-built and permanent?
So the PM took through what’s called the National Cabinet, which is meeting of the Prime Minister and the Premiers and Chief Ministers, the principles for quarantine construction with the states only last week. And so that’s based off the Victorian model.
So, that’s a position that’s on the table and available in terms of any state that wishes to proceed.
And that deal is that the feds build it, but the states have got to pay for running it. But it is a quarantine federal issue.
So you don’t think there’s an argument long term to say, look, we can’t have these people in hotels forever, eventually we want people flying in as they normally would, staying in those hotels.
So why don’t we build something? As the Federal Government running the country, why don’t we build something in Australia’s largest city?
Well, we’ve already done that in terms of what’s called Howard Springs, which is in Darwin.
Howard Springs is a national facility that’s going to be taking 2,000 people shortly. So the facility is in place, it’s been adjusted to make sure that it’s got that capacity, and that’s working at the national level with bringing people home.
And of course, the goal of the current process is to be vaccinating the nation, and thank you to the more than one and a half million people in New South Wales who’ve come forward, is to make sure that we can return to as close to normal as soon as possible.
But we have two processes in place. One is the quarantine system at the moment. Two, we put in place the Howard Springs in the Northern Territory. We’re doing this in Victoria, and if other states and territories want to work with us on this, we’ll continue to do that.
But I do have to say New South Wales has done the heavy lifting.
Okay. I’ve got a feeling pressure is going to keep building there, particularly if Labor’s going to say in the lead up to the next election that they will build it in New South Wales. But let’s see about that.
It’s always good to catch up, Greg Hunt. Thanks for your time.
Thanks very much. And to everybody who’s coming forward for vaccination, thank you. And to all those who haven’t yet, please do. It will protect you and will help protect your family and the nation.
Good on you. We appreciate your time. There’s the Federal Health Minister, Greg Hunt.