New Pharmaceutical Society (PSNZ) president Rhiannon Braund believes convincing policy makers to take action on the copayment will be key to healing growing rifts in the pharmacy sector.
Professor Braund, who was elected to the role of president in late November, says “the lines being drawn” around free prescriptions by pharmacy chains such as Chemist Warehouse and Countdown have created a rift between pharmacists.
She says the society is about promoting a strong profession and she wants to heal the disunity.
“Chemist Warehouse is scary for a lot of people. But there are still some great pharmacists that work in those pharmacies. What causes the friction is the business model.”
But this friction makes it difficult to act on behalf of the entire sector when negotiating with the Government.
Professor Braund believes it is government ambivalence about the pharmaceutical copayment that has allowed the discounting business model, which uses a tax as a loss leader, to flourish.
While the Australian Government intervened and allowed Chemist Warehouse to discount by only a dollar on the script cost, in New Zealand, successive governments have taken no action, despite repeated complaints from pharmacists.
We have an enthusiastic, passionate, capable workforce, who just feel they haven’t been given their wings yet with the way the health system is
In December, new health minister Andrew Little confirmed to Pharmacy Today he had no plans to look at copayments in the near future but that he is aware of the issue.
“It’s not a no, it’s a ‘not yet’,” Professor Braund says, adding she is hopeful the issue will be looked at in the aftermath of the Health and Disability System Review (HDSR) report.
Professor Braund believes arguing that the copayment situation is unfair will not convince the Government to take action. Instead, the sector needs to drive home the message that free medicines are not the only way to reduce inequity; and a clear policy on how medicines are accessed and supplied in New Zealand is required.
Discounting now means a two-tiered health system exists, where some New Zealanders who live near a discount pharmacy can access free medicines, and others, particularly in rural areas, cannot.
This is not based on patients’ needs and creates inequity. In addition, the medicines patients get for “free” still have to be paid for, leading to increased cost on the wider health system due to increased demand.
“Where is the policy conversation? Where is the medicines policy? We don’t have a strong medicines policy. It has been allowed to happen because no one has come into this space and spoken about what this actually means,” Professor Braund says.