Hard pill to swallow
By Christian Stanger
The decision by the Howard government to take calcium tablets off the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme has met with strong criticism from sufferers of osteoporosis and kidney disease, many of whom need to take daily doses of calcium to treat their condition.
Tweed Heads osteoporosis patient Rhonda Shaw is worried she will not be able to afford the expensive pills if they are not put back on the PBS. She says Federal Health Minister Tony Abbot has a lot to answer for.
"When it comes to politicians I'm really at a loss as to what they are thinking," Ms Shaw said.
"Tony Abbot is an educated man, and he would know if he spent 10 minutes researching it, the implications of taking calcium off the list.
"They might not consider this to be a life-threatening disease because, while it's really debilitating, it might not be considered terminal, but in the interests of the ageing population, please reconsider."
More 1.9 million Australians lived with osteoporosis in 2002, and that figure is on the rise. The conditions causes a loss of bone mass, affecting anyone at any age and is mainly caused by a lack of calcium. Suffers most commonly take calcium supplement pills every day to halt or slow the condition, pills which, without government support can cost in excess of $50 for one course.
Ms Shaw has had osteoporosis since about 2001 and has been buying her pills which, until now, have been under $5. But that could all change with calcium's removal from the PBS.
This price could balloon to $25, a price which Rhonda says many sufferers would find it difficult to afford.
"It's going to be up around $25, and while people who have a regular income can continue taking it, I think a lot of people won't be able to afford it," Ms Shaw said.
"I think that the people who are on fixed incomes or on a pension, I just don't think it will be a viable thing for them to keep taking the medication, which I think is really sad."