In a bid to save taxpayers millions of dollars, paracetamol, aspirin, antacids and other over-the-counter (OTC) medicines could be struck off the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) as of May, 2015.

On average, OTC paracetamol, which is sold in supermarkets, convenience stores and pharmacies, costs between $2.89 and $3.50 for a pack of 20.

For the same treatments purchased on script, a 100 pack of paracetamol costs $8.66. The cost of such is split between the government that pays $2.56 in PBS funds and the concessional patient, who pays $6.10.

According to Department of Health (DoH) figures, there were 6.7 million scripts written for paracetamol in the 2013-14 financial year.

To address excess  PBS expenditure and save millions of dollars, Federal Health Minister, The Hon. Sussan Ley MP, has advised she is currently in discussion with medical and consumer groups to remove paracetamol, aspirin, antacids and similar OTC medicines from being purchased on scripts.

Speaking to the media on Sunday, April 26, Ms Ley said, “We have to look at over-the-counter medications such as paracetamol, that are being accessed on script, at high cost to government.

“Ultimately, I want a better deal for consumers. I want consumers to be able to have access to affordable medicines at cheapest possible rates.

“There are some perverse disincentives and perverse incentives built into the system at the moment. The government is paying a lot of money for people to access Panadol and other over-the-counter medications at the chemist on script, that’s not necessarily sustainable, and not necessarily in the interest of patients overall,” said Ms Ley.

Although Ms Ley declined to put an exact figure on the potential cost-savings to the public purse, reports estimate this measure and others could save between $1-3 billion.

By removing medications such as Panadol from the PBS, it would prevent pensioners from obtaining paracetamol scripts for free when they reach the annual PBS safety net (60 scripts) and may then obtain PBS medicines for free, if concession card holders.

To sweeten the reforms, Ms Ley will allow pharmacists to cut the price of all PBS medications by up to $1 a script for patients.

The cost-savings initiative has received support from the Federal Opposition, with Labor’s Health spokeswoman, The Hon. Catherine King MP, explaining the move to be “sensible”.

Should this move be accepted, Channel 7 reports that with annual savings generated by removing paracetamol from the PBS, at a cost of $73-million, life-saving therapies, such as late-stage melanoma treatment, ipilimumab, could be made available at an estimated cost of $65 million.

The independent Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee (PBAC) has been tasked with reviewing all OTC medications available on the PBS as part of the proposed Budget reform.

The Sunday Telegraph reported on Sunday, April 26, 2015 that “taxpayers pay up to $50 to dispense a $2 packet of Panadol to pensioners and concession card-holders under a range of payments by patients and to doctors, pharmacists and drug companies.”

Be sure to watch this space for further updates on medications being struck off the PBS in next month’s budget.