Three ways Government can cut healthcare costs and improve health outcomes for consumers

14 December 2017

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The Australian Self Medication Industry (ASMI) has provided three central recommendations in its pre-Budget submission to the Federal Government, all of which would contribute to a more efficient, effective and sustainable healthcare system at no cost to Government.

ASMI believes that the adoption of the recommendations contained in this pre-budget submission have the potential to reduce healthcare costs by providing the Australian population with greater options for evidence-based medications as part of the role consumers can play in the  self-management of their health - referred to as 'self care'.

The Australian Self Medication Industry (ASMI) is the peak body representing the majority of Australia's $5.4 billion non-prescription medicine industry. This includes manufacturers and distributors of over-the-counter (OTC) medicines and complementary medicines, such as vitamin supplements.

The first recommendation is that Government should recognise self care as an integral element of a coordinated and comprehensive national health policy. Self care refers to the activities individuals, families and communities undertake on their own behalf with the intention of enhancing health, treating minor illness and preventing disease. A key component of preventative health is empowering consumers to play a more active role in managing their own health. This includes providing access to a broad range of consumer healthcare products, such as non-prescription medicines.

The second recommendation is for Government to develop an agenda to improve consumer access to non-prescription medicines through a progressive 'switch' agenda - that is, a mechanism to proactively identify medicines to 'switch' or downschedule from prescription-only access to a Schedule 3 over-the-counter (OTC) access.

Schedule 3 medicines are used to treat a range of everyday conditions that either do not require medical diagnosis or only require initial medical diagnosis and no close medical management. They are therefore available OTC (i.e. without a prescription). Examples include medicines that treat cold sores, conjunctivitis, mouth ulcers and nausea/vomiting associated with migraine and travel sickness.

There are currently a number of prescription-only medicines that could be considered candidates for a switch to Schedule 3. These include low-dose statins for cholesterol, triptans for migraine, antibiotics for urinary tract infection and chlamydia, oral contraceptives and erectile dysfunction medicines. Medicines in these categories meet the criteria of having a good efficacy and safety profile that have been demonstrated over time to address minor ailments that may be diagnosed and managed without medical intervention. Many of these are also already available OTC or are in the process of transitioning to OTC in New Zealand, which has a similar healthcare system and regulatory framework to Australia.

ASMI also advocates the streamlining approvals for the advertising of Schedule 3 medicines as a key component to switch. Current restrictions - by which advertising is only available on approval of an application - often leaves consumers completely unaware of these medicines, which are kept behind the counter at a pharmacy but available to them upon consultation with a pharmacist.

ASMI argues that changes to intellectual property laws are also required as an incentive for companies to pursue switch. Under the current system, non-prescription medicines do not benefit from the same level of intellectual property protection as prescription medicines.

The third key recommendation is for Government to harmonise OTC label requirements with New Zealand. The current lack of alignment on labelling requirements causes additional costs to both  industry and consumers.

Adoption of these recommendations will help ensure our healthcare system is sustainable both now and into the future, while also increasing consumer empowerment and improving health outcomes.

See summary of recommendations and the full budget submission here.