The affordability of prescription medicines in Australia: Are copayments and safety net thresholds too high?

Andrew Searles*, Evan Doran, Thomas A. Faunce, David Henry

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

15 Citations (Scopus)


Objective. To create and report survey-based indicators of the affordability of prescription medicines for patients in Australia. Method. A cross-sectional study of 1502 randomly selected participants in the Hunter Region of NSW, were interviewed by telephone. Main outcome measure. The self-reported financial burden of obtaining prescription medicines. Results. Data collection was completed with a response rate of 59.0%. Participants who had received and filled at least one prescription medicine in the previous 3 months, and eligible for analysis (n≤952), were asked to self-report the level of financial burden from obtaining these medicines. Extreme and heavy financial burdens were reported by 2.1% and 6.8% of participants, respectively. A moderate level of burden was experienced by a further 19.5%. Low burden was recorded for participants who said that their prescription medicines presented either a slight burden (29.0%) or were no burden at all (42.6%). Conclusion. A substantial minority of participants who had obtained prescription medicines in the 3 months prior to survey experienced a level of financial burden from the cost of these medicines that was reported as being moderate to extreme. What is known about the topic? The Australian National Medicines Policy aims to, amongst other things, facilitate access to medicines at a cost that is affordable to individuals and the community. Copayments combined with the safety net and brand price premium are the main determinants of the amount that patients pay for PBS listed prescription medicines. Previous surveys have reported on selected aspects of medicine affordability in Australia and have shown some groups in the population experience difficulty with the cost of their medicines. What does this paper add? This paper develops and reports on a set of indicators that can be used to periodically measure the level of self-reported financial burden experienced by Australians when obtaining prescription medicines. The analysis assesses affordability issues for both general patients and patients who are able to access prescription medicines using a concession card. What are the implications? Our research suggests that, as they stand, the copayment and safety net thresholds are not protecting nearly one-third of Australian patients from financial burden. Ongoing monitoring and evaluation is required to ensure the copayment and safety net thresholds do not jeopardise the National Medicines Policy's principle of equitable and affordable access to medicines.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)32-40
Number of pages9
JournalAustralian Health Review
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2013
Externally publishedYes


Dive into the research topics of 'The affordability of prescription medicines in Australia: Are copayments and safety net thresholds too high?'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this