In the last week or so we have had Federal Health Minister 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 ago the Wall Street Journal made available the pricing (for list, see here) 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 month’s supply of a very large range of lifesaving medicines in a wide range of therapeutic classes for $US4.00 – ie, $A5.30 per month.

Included in the list are anti-allergy, anti-inflammatory, anti-anxiety, anti- depressant and anti-psychotic medicines, and so on. Also included are a wide range of antibiotics (including Penicillin, Amoxycillin, Bactrim, Cephalosporins and even Ciprofloxin), two statins drugs, some hormones (eg Thyroid Replacement Therapy and Prednisone) and even multivitamins 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 standout saving for me was that Meloxicam, an anti-inflammatory that I take for osteo-arthritis, 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.

David More blogs at Australian Health IT.

Peter Fray

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