Nicola Roxon’s announcement of the addition of 13 new drugs to the PBS comes as a huge relief, given that I’m currently taking one of the drugs on a time-limited “patient familiarisation programme” supplied  by the company concerned (Novartis). However, I’m not going to break open the metaphorical non-alcoholic champagne until the government reverses its decision to subject drugs recommended for subsidy by the Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee to cabinet decision-making. If this process remains in place, then many patients (including myself at some point, in all probability) will have to go through this waiting-game – a game that may or may not end in a satisfactory outcome.

I should add that one of the other medications that has been canvassed by my doctors was unavailable to me under the old system. That medication was suggested for pain relief – nerve-pain being notoriously resistant to relief, as people with a very wide range of medical conditions can testify. Unlike the drug just approved, the pain medication was not entirely out of my reach without the PBS subsidy.However, it would have left a significant hole in my budget, so I gritted my teeth and settled for the cheaper, but according to my doctor probably less satisfactory, alternative. And I’ve come through it intact, if grumpy. The pain lifted, although slowly – slowly – and not completely.

 I don’t view the health budget as a bottomless well from which I should be able to draw at will. Where there are a range of effective treatment options, then cost should obviously be a factor in deciding between them. I did not visualise marching on Parliament House bearing a grim expression and a flaming torch because I had to settle for cheaper treatment as a first option, although I certainly think that other alternatives ought to be available as a second or third option.

But I’m not going to stake out Nicola Roxon’s office over that issue because the decision was not made by her. It was made by the Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee – and that’s the appropriate body to make such decisions. If they don’t always go my way – well, I won’t pretend to be cheerful about it, but thems the breaks.

Of course, I will be less philosophical about that if and when the pain amps up again.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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