Dr Chris Del Mar, Professor of Public Health from Health Sciences & Medicine discusses the impact of the Federal Budget’s announcement regarding generic medicines and pharmaceuticals for the medical profession, government and members of the public.
The government is set to save A$1.8 billion over five years by extending or increasing the price reduction for medicines listed on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS).
This will be achieved in part by encouraging doctors to prescribe generic medicines that name the active ingredient (as in “90 octane petrol”) rather than the brand name (as in “BP” or “Shell”). This has the effect of pharmaceutical companies selling the drug that is cheapest.
It doesn’t work for drugs still under patent (which allows only pharmaceutical companies holding the patent to negotiate a price, compensating them for the drug development costs). But when drugs come off patent, any other pharmaceutical company can manufacture the generic drug for the best price.
Some doctors worry different brands might have different effects, but there are very few examples of patients being harmed by this. Australia’s Therapeutic Drugs Administration (TGA) makes sure drugs are manufactured to tight standards.
However, many patients know their medications by the brand name rather than the generic name. This same problem can happen right now (when patients are prescribed the same drug with two or more different names when they are prescribed by GPs, hospitals, or specialists).
Doctors are already alert to ensuring that different drugs names do not confuse patients – the danger is that they take the same drug twice, thinking they are different drugs.