Australians are paying more out of their own pockets for medicines than people in many other countries, according to a new study.
Lead researcher Dr Anna Kemp, from The University of Western Australia's School of Population Health, said spending on medicines was rising rapidly in Australia, as it was in most other industrialised countries due to ageing populations, increased availability of new medicines and the rise in chronic disease.
However, spending in Australia was fourth highest among comparable countries.
"We found that spending on publicly subsidised medicines by Australian patients increased from $16 per person in 1971 to $62 in 2007," Dr Kemp said. "Patient expenditure on all prescription medicines rose to $134 per person in 2007, after adjusting for inflation."
Dr Kemp said the study published in the Australian Health Review compared changes in patients' out-of-pocket spending on prescription medicines over time, and how spending in Australia compares with other Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries.
"Rising costs put pressure on Governments to find new ways to fund medicines," she said. "In Australia a number of policy changes to the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) have resulted in consumers contributing a higher proportion of funding in direct out-of-pocket payments. There is evidence that this has resulted in access problems for some consumers, including those on low incomes and the elderly."
Dr Kemp said out-of-pocket expenditure for Australian patients ranked 4th of 14 OCED countries with universal pharmaceutical subsidies, with Australian patients paying 28 per cent of national pharmaceutical expenditure.
This was more than patients in South Korea (27 per cent), Slovak Republic (26 per cent), Sweden (22 per cent), France, Luxembourg, Japan and Switzerland (17 per cent), Germany (15 per cent), Czech Republic (11 per cent) and Spain (6 per cent), but less than patients in Finland (36 per cent), Denmark (33 per cent) and Poland (34 per cent).
"Any further increases risk substantially affecting access to and use of prescribed medicines, with potential risks to patient health and wellbeing. Policy makers should consider the ongoing affordability of medicine to patients, as well as to the wider community, when reviewing pharmaceutical reimbursement policy," Dr Kemp said.
Australian Health Review is the peer reviewed journal of the Australian Healthcare and Hospitals Association.