THREE consumer groups have joined forces to campaign against the high prices Australians pay for prescription medication.
The Consumers Health Forum of Australia (CHF), Choice and the Australian Council of Social Services said Australians were paying more than 10 times the British price for the equivalent medication at a time when 15% of Australians were now struggling to afford prescriptions.
The group said it is warning consumers to oppose supporting a campaign being run by the Pharmacy Guild which it said is calling on its customers to support the guild's mission to seek compensation for the reforms.
CHF chief executive Carol Bennett said pharmacies already received $3 billion a year from the government to dispense PBS medicines and this policy decision by the government was closing a "loop hole" which the industry had to claim inflated subsidies.
"Right now many health consumers have to decide between paying for a prescription or putting food on the table," she said.
"Over and above the current high prices of medicines, pharmacies nationally get more than $15 billion collectively over five years.
"This is an average of $600,000 per pharmacy."
The organisations said independent health experts estimated if Australia was to pay the same prices as New Zealand, about $1 billion a year would be saved off the cost of the PBS which could be put towards new health services and the listing of new drugs.
A spokesman for the Pharmacy Guild said simply dividing the global total of the complex five-year agreement - $15.4 billion - by the number of pharmacies to arrive at a figure of $600,000 paid to every pharmacy per year was "facile".
Coral Coast Pharmacy founding partner David Holmes said the consumer bodies were being completely misleading.
"They talk as if all pharmacies receive discounts on all drugs," he said.
"It is surely common sense that pharmacies in big groups that have clout will get bigger discounts than little pharmacies like us in regional areas."
Mr Holmes said the allegation that pharmacies were urging political parties to "back away" from the price disclosure was untrue.
"We have always supported the agreement that was in place and it was the government that has moved the goalposts without any consultation," he said.
Mr Holmes said it was true that in a lot of cases Australians paid more for prescription drugs but it was important to understand that it was the drug companies in conjunction with the government that set the prices.
"Australia has one of the lowest pharmaceutical spends as a % of GDP in the world so we are a small player in their market," he said. "You can go buy clothes and other items overseas for a third cheaper than what you can buy them for here in Australia and it is the same with medicine."