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Sunday, November 19, 2006

The Drug Pricing Scandal and How the Sick are Ripped off in Australia.

First, apologies to the die hard Health IT readers. For once I am going to stray from the chosen Health IT path, due to a deep sense of gob smacked outrage.

In the last week or so we have had the Federal Health Minister – Mr Tony Abbott – claiming he has just done a wonderful job negotiating a great reduction of the cost of generic prescription medicines and how grateful we all should be.

Without putting too fine a point on it that was just total codswallop.

A day or so the Wall Street Journal made available the pricing for Generic Prescription Medicine from Wal-Mart – the US retail chain. I grabbed the seven page price list document to see just what was on offer.

Essentially what is available is one months supply of a very large range of life saving medicines in a wide range of therapeutic classes for $US4.00 – i.e. $A5.30 per month.

Included in the list are Anti-Allergy, Anti-Inflammatory, Anti-Anxiety, Anti- Depressant Anti-Psychotic and so on medicines. Also included are a wide range of antibiotics (including Penicillin, Amoxycillin, Bactrim, Cephalosporins and even Ciprofloxin), 2 statins drugs, some hormones (e.g. Thyroid Replacement Therapy and Prednisone) and even multi-vitamins and Prozac.

The only major class of drug I could not find were the proton pump inhibitors for which the H2 Receptor Antagonists are nearly as good and just as safe. The PPIs will be off patent very soon I am sure (They are in Australia I believe) or it might be they are a bit more costly to manufacture.

The stand out saving for me was that Meloxicam – an anti-inflammatory for osteo-arthritis that I take was available for $5.30 a month rather than the $29.50 I presently pay! Without going into details my monthly $100 prescription costs could be adjusted down to about $20 a month with little or no change in the quality or safety of my treatment.

This really is a huge con with the drug companies and the pharmacists getting rich off the back of those unlucky enough to need prescription medicine. With this fix in a huge number of people are being ripped off and many, I am sure, are missing out on effective medicines that could make a great difference to the quality and quantity of their lives due to costs they may not be able to afford.

Our much vaunted Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme looks to like a wonderful cosy drug company – pharmacist – government cartel to me. Transparent it certainly is not and how – with these sort of savings possible – one can justify keeping the supermarkets out of the area is beyond belief.

We will now return to our usual program with that off my chest.


Note – Please e-mail me if you want a copy of the list – its only about 50Kbyte so easy to e-mail.


Anonymous said...

Thank goodness someone with knowledge and the ability to present it is on to the rort the government calls a pharmaceutical "benefit" scheme. I remember when it really was beneficial but now the cost just seems to go up and the benefits down.eg: I can get Duatrol for rheumatic pain on PBS but my experience is that the chemists can't get it except in rare batches so I have to buy the unlisted alternative. Keep up the campaign.

Liz Johnston

Anonymous said...

It's about time the scab was ripped off this particularly unpleasant and dishonest sore. I'm downloading the price list ready for my next visit to the pharmacist.

Anonymous said...

Is it possible to buy from Wal Mart from Australia?


Anonymous said...

Wouldn't it be nice to have some honesty from the chief protagonists - government, pharmaceutical companies and pharmacists regarding the obvious price fixing that goes on in this country. This clearly disadvantages the poor souls with complex and chronic conditions that are dependent on an ongoing regimen of medicines that are expensive (and largely non-optional) for the management of their conditions.

Can you imagine this government allowing Coles or Woolworths to offer medications at a Wal-Mart price ?? .... all we seem to get is a policy vaccuum, obfuscation and obstruction to allowing us citizens dependent on medicines access at an affordable price ..... where is the ACCC in all this ??


Dr David G More MB PhD said...


Please note the cheap medicines are only those out of patent and there are some patented drugs which are important, novel and valuable.

The key point is that the out-of-patent generics we have here in Australia are offensively overpriced compared with the US.


Anonymous said...

Gee isn't it nice to have an opinion that doesn't bear on the commercial realities.
One word: "Loss-Leader."
Wal-Mart have been a tiny player in the US mailorder drug market (See CSV, Eckerd et al) and are attempting to buy market share.

Even extreme lefties understand that.. 'predatory pricing' is illegal, and only a 'good thing' for a while, until a monopoly (sorry, duopoly -- Australia's Colesworth is the world's most concentrated grocery duopoly) eventuates: exactly as Karl Marx and Terry Lane predicted... and screw their suppliers and their customers in the name of shareholders; and choice goes out the window. Try buying meat in US supermarkets: 'You want beef or mince?'
If you want to yell for consumers, ask Colesworth to give their TRUE into-store prices, and then ask Mr Costello to protect the poor Mrs Grocery shopper.

Yes I'm a small community pharmacist -- my niche is service in all its manifestations. Checking surveys, you will find only some 15% of people put price above everything.

P.S Service has a value and a price.

Dr David G More MB PhD said...


Nice to hear from you. I will make just one point. I have sadly been taking prescription medicine for over a decade and never in that time have needed any service other than being able to pick up my prescription. Many are in the same boat and do not wish to and should not have to pay for your 'value added' service. They and I want choice as to where we buy our medicines and to avoid the price elevating monopoly we currently face.

If your service is so valuable why are you so worried about someone simply supplying regular medicines at a lower price without it? Maybe the value people place on such service is not as high as you and the Guild imagine.


Dr David G More MB PhD said...

To Ab Initio,

When you can learn to post in english sentences, make a sensible point or points and not use obscenities I may consider posting your comments.