Interview with Anthony Tassone’s on the Proposal to De-regulate Pharmacies
Interview with Anthony Tassone, Victorian President, Pharmacy Guild of Australia about a proposal to de-regulate pharmacies.
Station: ABC News 24, Morning
Date: 1st April 2015
Compere: The Harper review into competition has recommended the de-regulation of pharmacy ownership and location rules. For more we are joined by Anthony Tassone, he’s the Victorian President of the Pharmacy Guild. Anthony Tassone welcome. The review wants to dump a rule requiring pharmacies to be owned by pharmacists. In 2015, isn’t it fair enough that we open this up instead of it being the exclusive preserve of pharmacists?
Anthony Tassone: The ownership model of pharmacists only owning pharmacies has served the community very well. Pharmacists always put their patients before profits and opening up ownership of pharmacies really only feeds the cosy duopoly that we already have in this country. It is about making big business bigger and threatening to put small business out of business and putting at risk a model that has served the Australian community and taxpayers extremely well, a system that is very trusted, that people are satisfied with and is highly accessible.
Compere: But are consumers getting the best deal when it is a closed market like this?
Anthony Tassone: Absolutely. We commissioned research as part of our response to the draft report, Professor Henry Ergess, a very well respected economist assisted in that research that showed via a geo-spatial analysis that pharmacies are more accessible than any other major service in Australia, including banks, supermarkets, post offices and medical centres. We had a qualitative survey of approximately 1,000 consumers and the feedback we had was given various different scenarios, consumers preferred the current model of what they are experiencing from community pharmacies and a significant majority felt it was appropriate that health professionals owned their own practices.
Compere: But under this model proposed by this review, there would still be regulations to ensure access to medicines and quality of advice. So wouldn’t those qualities that you’re saying there mark the existing system still be apparent under the new one?
Anthony Tassone: Well we’re speculating and this is unproven theory without an implementation plan. What we are looking at with this recommendation is proposals to de-regulate and possibly re-regulate, to try and fix a non-problem, based on an unproven theory, ignoring the current evidence. That is nonsense. Our primary healthcare needs of the Australian public are too important to put at risk at the whim of an opinion of a particular economist in this review.
Compere: What is your evidence that people are getting the best deal under the existing system?
Anthony Tassone: Our evidence in terms of getting the best deal under the existing agreement is accessibility, equitable access on a world class Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme that is underpinned by a significant investment of the infrastructure that is community pharmacies, a community service obligation that is part of the existing community pharmacy agreement…
Compere: Well that would be covered under this review plan by having – governments would tender for services in underserved areas.
Anthony Tassone: Well with the current location rules that we have, we have significant access to community pharmacies already, already over and above other major services; 87 per cent of the Australian public live within 2.5 kilometres of a community pharmacy. So it seems like we are chasing non-problems and trying to fix them with unproven theories and we aren’t sure of the outcome. The current model and current system is serving the Australian public very well. The Australian public trust their pharmacists; they are satisfied with their pharmacies and confident in using them again.
And this has been proven repeatedly through a range of surveys from Roy Morgan, PWC and the Menzies Institute. There is overwhelming evidence to substantiate this and for the Harper review, they haven’t produced any evidence to substantiate their recommendation over and above their opinions and unproven theories.
Compere: Wouldn’t consumers get a much better deal with lower prices if this market was opened up a bit?
Anthony Tassone: With the prescription medicines that we have in Australia, 75 per cent of them are actually subsidised under the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme which is a fantastic scheme that helps create equity of access to medicines for the Australian public. The Government sets the price of medicines. So community pharmacies, for the most part, are price takers and not price makers. De-regulation of pharmacy ownership and location rules have not been proven to be improving the cost of medicines in that regard and as part of our response to the Harper review draft report, we commissioned a cost benefit analysis that estimates it could be a $700 million worse off position with de-regulation of pharmacy ownership and location rules compared to the current framework.
Compere: This review is suggesting dumping rules that have limits on the number of pharmacies owned by pharmacists. Isn’t that a good sweetener for you?
Anthony Tassone: No, we reject the Harper recommendations in their full. Pharmacists always put profits – sorry always put patients before profits excuse me. And relaxing the number of pharmacies that a pharmacist can own is not a sweetener at all. The current framework works. The public is satisfied with it and trust it.
Compere: I am not questioning your motives but surely, the bottom line for business people is to ensure their businesses are profitable. Can you really be out there saying we put patients before profits?
Anthony Tassone: Absolutely. Well if that wasn’t the case, pharmacies wouldn’t be so trusted and satisfied by the Australian public. They wouldn’t be so confident in using them. There is a growing sentiment in the Australian public for pharmacies to do more and expand their role.
Compere: Okay Anthony Tassone thanks very much for talking to us this morning.
Anthony Tassone: Thank you for your time.
Transcript produced by iSentia