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Concerns over change to generics prescribing in Australia Posted 19/05/2017

In its 2017 budget, Australia is set to make changes that will encourage the use of generics and that are estimated could save the country AU$1.8 billion.

The Australian Government plans to change the prescribing software used by doctors so that the default setting is switched to the active ingredient, i.e. generic drug name and not the brand name. This would effectively make generics prescribing mandatory and would possibly also include prescribing for biosimilars.

This change – along with a number of other measures being proposed as part of an agreement between the Australian Government and Medicines Australia – are expected to save the country a combined AU$1.8 billion.

Although the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGPs) said it supported the changes, the Australian Medical Association (AMA) expressed its concerns over the changes. The AMA announced that it had sought clarity and certainty from the government that the proposed Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) changes would not interfere with the independence of doctor prescribing. Federal AMA Vice President Dr Tony Bartone warned ‘that any proposed changes to increase generics and biosimilars must not remove a doctor’s ability, when necessary, to choose a brand-name medicine when that is most appropriate for the patient’ and that the changes would not impose a new bureaucratic burden on busy doctors.

Since it made its announcement, the AMA has ‘received confirmation that these changes will not result in mandatory prescribing, while still encouraging the greater uptake of generics where appropriate’. They have also been informed that ‘the changes in software to default to generics will not be time consuming’.

Health Minister Greg Hunt also said that ‘any savings will be ploughed back into the PBS by listing new medicines’ and that ‘there will always be 100% doctor control over the prescriptions that they give’.

The Consumers Health Forum (CHF) also supported the change to generics prescribing and agreed cost savings could allow more new drugs to be listed on the PBS. Although CHF chief executive officer Leanne Wells cautioned that ‘it was important people were educated about any changes to their prescriptions’.

One in four medicines dispensed on the PBS are still the brand-name originator drug and the level of utilization of generics in Australia is still much lower than countries such as New Zealand and the UK [1].

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1. GaBI Online - Generics and Biosimilars Initiative. Australians pay too much for generics [www.gabionline.net]. Mol, Belgium: Pro Pharma Communications International; [cited 2017 May 19]. Available from: www.gabionline.net/Generics/General/Australians-pay-too-much-for-generics

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Source: ABC, AMA

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