The Guardian 16 November, 2005

Medical groups rally
against removal of calcium from PBS

Key medical and consumer groups have joined forces to oppose the decision of the Federal Health Minister, Tony Abbott, to remove calcium supplements from the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS).

In an unprecedented move, Osteoporosis Australia (OA), the Australian & New Zealand Bone & Mineral Society (ANZBMS), the Australian Rheumatology Association (ARA) and the Aus­tralian Orthopaedic Association (AOA) have spoken out against Mr Abbott’s decision.

According to Professor Philip Sambrook, Medical Director of Osteoporosis Australia, the Government’s decision will affect many Australians, especially those taking calcium supplements in an effort to reduce their risk of osteoporosis and fractures.

"We believe this is a poor decision by the Health Department, especially when calcium supplements are commonly prescribed for post-menopausal women and in conjunction with osteoporosis medications, as well as other diseases", Professor Sambrook said.

Ms Judy Stenmark, CEO of Osteoporosis Australia, said the Government is not helping people with the disease and urged the Minister to reconsider.

"Pensioners, concession card holders, people from lower socio-economic groups and specifically those who are on multiple medications (which is commonplace) are the main groups of people who will be disadvantaged by this short-sighted decision."

Mr Abbott had amended an earlier decision to completely remove calcium supplements from the PBS altogether and has announced a listing will only be retained for patients with chronic renal failure.

"People with osteoporosis should also be included in the listing", said Professor Sambrook.

"Calcium supplementation plays a critical part in the management of people with osteoporosis."

Professor Lyn March, President of the ARA, stressed: "The government is overlooking the important issue that calcium supplements are commonly used by people on multiple medications.

"Mr Abbott’s comment that paying full price for calcium supplements is relatively inexpensive is just nonsense to these people."

The full price is around $12 compared to $4.80 for free supply — for those on low incomes it is a very significant saving.

According to Professor Geoff Nicholson from ANZBMS, the cost to the healthcare system of increased rates of fracture would far outweigh a short term saving to the PBS by de-listing calcium supplements. "We must all work to reduce the rate of osteoporotic fractures in the Australian community and this is a step in the wrong direction", he said.

Delisting the tablets from the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) will save the Federal Government $3 million over four years — less than $1 million a year! (Daily Telegraph, 3-11-05).

Government is more interested in doing the bidding of the giant pharmaceutical corporations who make mega bucks out of new, patented designer drugs — not tried and proven preventative supplements such as calcium which are not only free of patents (and hence so lucrative) but reduce the need for other medications down the track because of their preventative nature.

As for the humanitarian side of the equation, all the pain and suffering that can be reduced or avoided for those on low incomes and with chronic illness, neither the Government nor the big pharmaceutical corporations are interested.

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