Paracetamol subsidy ends, but consumers still win

THE Turnbull government has removed subsidies for 17 common medicines.

The drugs include paracetamol, aspirin and hydrocortisone and they will be removed from the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme from January.

Health Minister Sussan Ley announced the decision on Tuesday, after a government advisory board recommended the changes earlier this year.

The drugs to be removed are already commonly available over the counter, and last year cost the government $87 million for about 8.7 million scripts.

However, consumers and patients should win from the decision, as the over the counter prices are commonly lower than those charged to taxpayers through subsidies.

It comes amid a wider review of 5700 subsidised Medicare Benefit Schedule-listed treatments and drugs.

Ms Ley said the decision would correct an "anomaly" in the Medicare system that saw taxpayers paying higher prices for medicines than supermarkets and chemists offered over the counter.

"For example, we have concession card holders paying $6.10 for a $2 pack of paracetamol if they buy it using a PBS-subsidised prescription, which also attracts a taxpayer subsidy on top," she said.

The changes, she said, would save the government about $500 million over four years that could go to listing new, "potentially life-saving drugs".

Drugs to be removed include those used for everything from headaches to constipation.

Ms Ley said the delisted medicines represented only 15% of over the counter drugs listed on the PBS, but generated nearly 90% of the $100 million the government spent on over the counter medicines each year.

She has also accepted a recommendation to keep other, more expensive medicines on the PBS, including Ventolin and adrenalin epipens for people with asthma or allergies.

Ms Ley said keeping those medicines on the scheme ensured they were available at cheaper prices for

patients "when and where they need them". She also encouraged people to talk to their doctor about using over the counter medicines.

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