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Health minister won't 'waste time' trying to get $1bn budget cuts through Senate

02/06/2015
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Federal health minister Ms Sussan Ley has conceded the government does not have the support to get its $1bn budget savings measure on subsidised medicine through the Senate.

The health minister backed away from a suite of measures relating to the pharmaceutical benefits scheme, including the proposal to charge general patients a $5 co-payment for scripts and to increase the amount patients must spend on medicines before being eligible to get them free or cheaper.

The retreat comes less than a fortnight after the government presented the measures for a second time in the federal budget.

"I have spoken with crossbenchers about the 2014-15 measure to increase the PBS patient co-payment and safety net," the health minister said. "Obviously the government has to negotiate all legislation through the Senate and initial indications are that the crossbench does not support the measure in its current form."

But Ms Ley warned the $1 billion shortfall from abandoning the measure will need to be found elsewhere.

"Like all ministers, I am applying the principle that a saving doesn't come off the table unless an alternative saving goes on. This is the responsible thing to do and I will continue to work with the parliament to ensure we live within our means."

The opposition said the PBS changes were still on the table until other savings could be found, amounting to Ms Ley "back-flipping on a backflip".

"She has been forced to back down because [Treasurer] Joe Hockey knows that she blew a $1.3 billion hole in the budget," shadow health minister Ms Catherine King said.

"The health system deserves better than a government that is in chaos when it comes to health care, and it is making policy on the run."

Currently, general patients must reach a threshold of $1,454 a year on drugs before being eligible for cheaper subsidised drugs. The proposed changes, first introduced in the 2014 budget, would see that safety net increased by 10% a year over four years. Concessional patients would also have to pay more for their medicines.

Ms Ley has indicated negotiations on the changes are now stalled.

"I am not going to waste time putting things through the parliament that are going to be voted down by my colleagues," she said.

The government has added medicines worth $1.3 billion to the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme.

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