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FTA ’first step to destroying PBS’

The Australian

FTA ’first step to destroying PBS’

July 26 2004

(AAP) DOCTOR and pharmaceutical groups are split on the effects of a free trade deal with the United States.

The Medical Journal of Australia, published by the Australian Medical Association, this week carries two articles claiming the free trade agreement (FTA) will undermine the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS).

The articles, by American and Australian experts, claim the deal undermines the PBS and the way it keeps a lid on the nation’s prescription charges.

"With the Australia-US FTA in place, we may well have begun the journey to destruction of our PBS," one article says.

But Medicines Australia, whose members include multi-national drug companies such as Pfizer and GlaxoSmithKline, said there was now no reason to believe the PBS would be affected under the trade deal.

The association’s Kieran Schneemann said a review process, unveiled by the Government at the weekend, showed there would be no improper abuse of the PBS, which would force up prices.

"(The) announcement puts to rest once and for all any suggestions that the FTA will result in increased prices for medicines," he said.

Under the proposed review system, companies that fail to have their drugs listed by the Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee (PBAC) will be able to seek a review.

That review, and the outcomes of a further investigation by PBAC, will then go to the health minister.

Labor trade spokesman Stephen Conroy said although the new information about the review system was welcome, the ALP would wait on a Senate committee inquiry before deciding whether to support the FTA.

The ALP is under pressure from the union movement, with an Australian Manufacturing Workers Union-commissioned poll of 10 marginal seats showing deep suspicion of the FTA.

Of the 1000 voters quizzed, 48 per cent opposed the deal, just nine per cent said Australia would benefit most and 52 per cent believed Prime Minister John Howard was putting US interests ahead of Australian interests.