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Journal article

Costs of paying higher prices for equivalent effects on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme

9 Mar 2016


The aims of the present study were to illustrate and discuss the effects of the non-maintenance of equivalent prices when the comparators of pharmaceuticals listed on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Schedule (PBS) on a cost-minimisation basis come off-patent and are subject to statutory price reductions, as well as further potential price reductions because of the effects of price disclosure.

Service use, benefits paid, and price data were analysed for a selected sample of pharmaceuticals recommended for listing on a cost-minimisation basis between 2008 and 2011, and their comparators, to estimate the cost savings to the PBS of maintaining equivalent prices.

Potential cost savings for 12 pharmaceuticals, including alternative compounds and combination products across nine therapeutic groups, ranged from A$570 000 to A$40 million to April 2015. Potential savings increased significantly following recent amendments to the price disclosure process.

Potential savings from maintaining equivalent prices for all pharmaceuticals listed on the PBS on a cost-minimisation basis could be over A$500 million per year. Actions to reduce these costs can be taken within existing policy frameworks, but legislative and political barriers may need to be addressed to minimise these costs, which are incurred by the taxpayer for no additional benefit.

Pharmaceuticals listed on the PBS must provide value for money. Many pharmaceuticals achieve this by demonstrating equal effectiveness to an already listed pharmaceutical and requesting the same price as this comparator; that is, listing on a cost-minimisation basis. When the comparator moves off-patent, the price of the still-patented pharmaceutical is protected, whereas the off-patent drug is subject to price disclosure and often steep price reductions.

This paper adds to recent evidence on the costs to government of paying different prices for two or more pharmaceuticals that are equally effective. Between 2008 and 2011, the direct comparators for 68 pharmaceuticals listed on a cost-minimisation basis have moved onto the price disclosure list. Across 12 of these listings, the potential cost savings in the 10 months to April 2015 were A$73 million.

The PBS costs the Australian government over A$9 billion per year. Annual savings over A$500 million per year could be achieved by maintaining cost-minimisation across equally effective pharmaceuticals. This would improve the efficiency of the PBS at no risk to patients. Legislation is required to remove the existing F1 and F2 categorisation of listed pharmaceuticals, but the proposed changes would remove the need for therapeutic group premiums and simplify the pricing of PBS items.

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