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Everything You Need to Know about PBS and non-PBS Pharmaceuticals

Medications help treat and prevent various ailments but can be costly. Australia’s Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) affords its residents support with the cost of several prescription medications dispensed by pharmacists. Thereby ensuring parents can access the medication they need without being faced with excessive out-of-pocket costs.

Megan Fraser

Fact Checked

Updated: 19 May 2024

Here’s more information about what PBS offers, who benefits from the scheme and how you can get the medication you need cost-effectively.

Key facts

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What is the pharmaceutical benefits scheme (PBS)?

The Australian Government introduced a program in 1948 to provide access to affordable medication for everyone with a Medicare card and those visiting from countries with a Reciprocal Health Care Agreement (RHCA). The purpose of the PBS is to provide you with reliable, timely and affordable access to prescription medicines.

Who is eligible for PBS?

All Australians and concession cardholders who have a current Medicare card are eligible to receive PBS medication by prescription. However, those visiting from a country with a Reciprocal Health Care Agreement may also qualify for the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme and receive subsidised medications.

Generally, one of the following health care cards are accepted:

Take note: Sometimes, you might not qualify for the subsidy due to other factors, for example, your age, gender, health and medical history. It’s important to confirm your qualification with your medical practitioner when they write you a prescription.

What does the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme cover?

In Australia, prescriptions are generally divided into two categories:

PBS Medications
Medications covered can be found on the PBS website. A comprehensive list of generic medications is available and is updated on the first day of each month. If you claim medicines from this list, the Government’s subsidised portion is typically paid directly to the pharmacy.
Non-PBS Medication
If the medicine you need is not listed under the PBS, you’ll generally have to pay full price. A private health insurance policy may allow you to claim a benefit for non-PBS medication. It’s generally a good idea to compare policies to find cover that pays for your medications if you require chronic medications.

What is the PBS safety net?

This is a mechanism that ensures that people who spend more than a threshold amount on medicines in a year can get cheaper or even free medication for the remainder of the year. The ‘safety net’ protects Australians from excessive pharmaceutical bills for the PBS listed prescriptions they need.

When you or your family reach the PBS threshold, you are generally entitled to discounted co-payments for the rest of the calendar year. If you have a relevant concessions card and reach your threshold, you might get listed medications free for the remainder of the year. If you have a partner, de facto partner and/or children under the age of 16 or under the age of 25 and a full-time student, you can all work together towards the same safety net threshold.

How do the thresholds work?

The current safety net threshold is $1,497.20 for general patients and $316.80 for concessional card holders and pensioners.

When this amount is reached, patients and/or their families can apply for a Safety Net Concession Card which entitles you to a reduced price for prescription medications for the remainder of the year. If you’ve reached your limit and have a relevant concessions card, you might get listed medications free for the remainder of the year.

Out of pocket costs to expect and extra charges

While the bulk of medication costs are covered, you may still need to make a PBS co-payment. You may be required to pay more than the co-payment if you choose a particular brand of medication or if the Government and supplier cannot agree on a price. You’ll also need to cover the difference if the prescribed drug exceeds the PBS drug price in the same therapeutic group. However, your doctor may request an exemption.

How to use it

PBS medications are available to all Australians and concession cardholders who have a current Medicare card. To buy PBS medicines, you will need a doctor’s prescription.

How can you find out if the PBS covers the medicine you need?

The PBS subsidises the cost of several generic medications listed in the Schedule of Pharmaceutical Benefits for Approved Pharmacists and Medical Practitioners, also referred to as the PBS Schedule. The list is available on the PBS website.

Can I get help with prescription costs?

Through the PBS, the Australian Government subsidises medicines to make them more affordable. If you have a private prescription, meaning the medicine is not listed under the PBS, you’ll generally have to pay full price.

Does private health insurance cover medication?

Typically, private health insurance funds with Extras cover to allow you to claim for non-PBS medications. How much you are covered for depends on the type of policy you have.

How to claim pharmaceuticals from your health fund

Private health insurers offer several ways to make a claim. Generally, these are:

Frequently Asked Questions and Answers

The Australian Government funds the PBS. They are a part of the greater National Medicines Policy. The goal of both of these schemes is to offer reliable and affordable medicines to the general public. This ensures that health and economic goals are kept in balance.

This is the prescription you’ll receive from your care provider that allows you to access medication on the PBS list. Eligible prescribers such as doctors, dentists, nurses, midwives, and optometrists can write prescriptions for patients for medications listed on the PBS schedule.

The Australian Government helps keep the costs of many medicines low through the PBS. Subsidised medication will cost you up to $41.30 per prescription, or $6.60 if you have a concession card.

Every medicine needs to pass an evaluation by the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) for safety, quality and effectiveness before being sold in Australia. Once approved, the Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee (PBAC) do their own assessment regarding efficacy. The PBAC can then recommend that the medication be added to the PBS schedule.

The current safety net threshold is $1,497.20 for general patients and $316.80 for concessional card holders and pensioners.

You will need to pay between $10 and $100 or more for non-PBS subsidised prescriptions. If you do not have private health insurance or the fund you have does not cover pharmaceuticals, you will need to foot the entire bill.

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Specialist

Megan has extensive experience writing about health and life insurance in Australia. Megan has a special interest in health and wellness. She relies on her background in counselling psychology to convey the latest findings in a manner that is most beneficial to ComparingExperts readers. In every article she writes, Megan aims to uphold the standards of the Private Health Insurance Intermediaries Association (PHIAA) which ComparingExpert is part of.

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