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Abortion drug closer to being added to PBS

Health Minister Tanya Plibersek said the PBAC decision was a “very important” first step in the drug being added to the PBS, which would mean it would be available at a subsidised rate to Medicare card holders.
Health Minister Tanya Plibersek said the PBAC decision was a “very important” first step in the drug being added to the PBS, which would mean it would be available at a subsidised rate to Medicare card holders. Bruce Thomas

CONTROVERSIAL abortion drug RU486 could be added to the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme within weeks, slashing its cost by hundreds of dollars.

The Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee has recommended the drug be added to the PBS on the basis of "similar effectiveness and lower cost compared with surgical termination of pregnancy".

Health Minister Tanya Plibersek said the PBAC decision was a "very important" first step in the drug being added to the PBS, which would mean it would be available at a subsidised rate to Medicare card holders.

The final decision to list the drug on the PBS now rests with Ms Plibersek.

"Now we'll go into a period of making sure that there is a steady, good quality supply of the drug (and) that there is a cost effective price for the drug," Ms Plibersek said.

If the drug is added to the PBS its cost will drop from the hundreds to as little as $5.90 per tablet for concession card holders and $36.10 for regular patients.

The drug can be used to terminate a pregnancy of up to 49 days gestation.

Ms Plibersek said she would not "pre-judge the next steps" and would be guided by the available evidence.

She said a decision on whether the drug would be added to the PBS would be made well before the election in September.

"I would expect this process to take a few weeks," she said."It's not my intention that this become a political football."

Ms Plibersek said RU486, which requires the patient to take one pill at the surgery and another at home, had been used successfully by "tens of millions" of women around the world.

She said there was evidence of fewer complications associated with its use compared to surgical abortions.

"These drugs could have been listed some time ago in Australia but the last time it was in contemplation (2005) Tony Abbott as health minister sought to use (his) ... veto power to prevent its listing," she said

.Interestingly Tony Abbott told reporters in Adelaide on Friday he was not opposed to the drug being added to the PBS and it was right to "accept the advice of the technical experts".

Ms Plibersek said this had come as a surprise.

"That does go against several decades of statements in his public life," she said.

"I guess it's possible he's made a complete 180-degree turnaround on this issue. I suppose people would question whether once he's had one complete 180 degree turnaround whether he'll do another 180 degrees and end up back where he started."

Ms Plibersek said the evidence showed increasing the cost and availability of the drug had not led to an increase in abortions.

She said nothing would change the fact terminating a pregnancy was an "extraordinarily difficult" decision for a woman to make.

Topics:  abortion pharmaceutical benefits scheme tanya plibersek


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