More MS news articles for February 2001

Paying the Price

Four Corners
8.30pm Monday 19 February

Has the pharmaceutical industry broken the scheme which delivers Australians cheap medicines? Did the Federal Government succumb to industry pressure in dumping its own expert advisers?

These are the questions Four Corners explores in an inside account of how the Government overhauled the controversial Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee (PBAC), whose job is to advise which drugs should be publicly subsidised.

Four Corners looks behind a high stakes game in which billions of dollars - in taxpayers' money and industry turnover - rest on the deliberations of this committee.

The cost of subsidising just one drug represents, for example, a new hospital or two in politically disaffected regional Australia. For a drug company, it may mean the difference between expensive loss and windfall profit.

Through interviews with committee members, industry leaders and Federal Health Minister, reporter Liz Jackson traces how the pharmaceutical industry ran out of patience with the committee and cranked up the pressure for change.

She details key meetings and conversations which led ultimately to key committee members being dumped.

"They have a zero tolerance approach to people who criticise them," says the drug companies' public enemy number one, ex-committee member Professor David Henry.

The industry insists it's not all about profit. "This is an industry which is about making you and I and our children, our relatives, better. Getting rid of diseases which they have and making sure they have a longer and better life," says industry leader Alan Evans.