The 2019-20 Federal Budget will have a significant impact on Australia’s Pharmacists. Pharmacists remain one of the most underpaid professional groups in our economy. The funding model for pharmacy is one of the major drivers of this outcome. As a result, Federal Government funding through budget allocations is particularly important for pharmacists.
Professional Pharmacists Australia cautiously welcomes the additional support for pharmacy announced in the budget. However, there remains a high level of uncertainty around how the policy measures announced will impact pharmacists, and whether the beneficiaries will be pharmacists or pharmacy owners.
The most notable announcement stemming from Tuesday night’s budget was $215 million to increase in the administration handling fee (AHI) for a further three years, starting in 2020/21. Additionally, the budget announced reductions in the time to process PBS claims from 9-16 days to 2-9 days, improving cash flow for pharmacies.
Other announcements affecting pharmacists include $15 million to expand the Dose Administration Aids and MedsCheck programs, and a number of new medicines being added to the PBS.
While overall this seems like a solid outcome for pharmacists in the budget, little has been done to ensure that funding makes its way down to pharmacists themselves. Improvements to the AHI are great, but unless pharmacists are seeing the benefit, then it ultimately becomes another handout to pharmacy owners.
With the proliferation of discount pharmacy chains in recent years, there has been a growing effort by owners to maximise profit, at the expense of pharmacist wages. Without some rigor around new funding, the real danger is that this trend continues, and pharmacists do not benefit at all.
In a further disappointment for pharmacists, the budget unsurprisingly failed to address the issue of penalty rates that continue to be a major point of concern across the profession.
Overall, the budget was a mixed bag for pharmacists. There were some announcements that inspire hope that perhaps pharmacy wages may rise in the years ahead. However, pharmacists may be forgiven for doubting whether the additional funding will ever make its way down to the skilled professionals who are actually doing the work.
And with the Federal Election looming in May and the Government trailing in the polls, this may be the closest this budget ever comes to reality.