Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Defence Force justice system under fire - National -

The bipartisan Senate report recommends stripping the Defence Force justice system of most of its powers to investigate and prosecute its own personnel by reason of abuse and systemic flaws. The report is a 385 page PDF file so yes...I'm still ploughing through it.

To quote the SMH (in turn quoting the report), "Among the sweeping changes recommended by the Senate's Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade references committee:

1. All criminal activity within the Defence Force be investigated and prosecuted by civilian authorities, rather than by the military, as happens now.

2. The establishment of a new, statutorily independent director of military prosecutions.

3. The establishment of an independent and permanent military court.

4. The creation of a statutorily independent grievance and complaint review body, which takes administrative investigations away from the chain of command."

I don't think I'm going to comment about it seeing as it does have implications on the system we have in place in the SAF so...yes...go ahead and read for general edificaition.

Drug companies refuse lower pricing on four medicines - National -

Well intentioned governmental plan gone wrong. The idea was that the Federal Government would cut the prices it pays to drug companies of a particular proprietary drug once the patent had expired i.e. once generic varients of the drug enter the market. To give an example, Panadol is proprietary but Paracetamol (in whatever name and varient) is the generic one. The move was expected to generate savings of up to AUS $800 million per year for the government as well as the patients.

However, following a 'revolt' by the drug companies, patients now have to pay a 'special patient contribution' over and on top of current co-payments (the government pays a part, you pay the rest). The original plan was not to have affected consumers ironically. These four drugs are Alimta, a treatment for types of lung cancer, Topamax prescribed for epilepsy, Keppra for migraine headaches and Lexapro for depression.

Personally, I do think that this governmental scheme is justifiable in the sense that patents (a monopoly given to the inventor with a time limit of 20 years) are given in the expectation that the inventor would recoup his losses (and more) in this particular period. So once the patent expires, the economic and moral justification of paying full price for the drug vastly if not totally diminishes. After all, the federal government is not going to suddenly only pay cost price (which is seriously dirt cheap), but 12.5% lower than the price they are already paying. I hope that it is not retail price because the price the drug companies sell to GPs and Hospitals and pharmacies is A LOT cheaper than the retail price we buy.

At any rate, it seems that the opposition is fuelled by the argument that generics are not perfect substitutes (despite being chemically similar) to proprietary drugs. I can personally attest to that fact though I might argue it is simply because of poor quality control. I once did a experiment back in secondary school where we tested asprin tablets to see if they contained the advertised level of active ingridient. Sadly, you pay for what you get. very often the cheaper brands do not maintian quality control such that some tablets had mroe than the advertised dosage and some quite a bit less. The 'name brands' had the exact amount regardless in every tablet.

Another problem is the manner of classification of drugs into generic groups. Just because something is a painkiller does not mean all painkillers act in a similar fashion OR would work as effectively for current patients made to switch.

I think there is a way out of this problem. The government could simply shift to buying only generics and effectively force the drug companies to lower their prices in a bid to keep the Federal government as customers. Unfortunately it would seem like they (the drug companies) are not biting and I think patients currently on these drugs would not take kindly (emotionally or physically or even healthily) to a change in their medication. BUT a policy would be progressive i.e. to be used only for future patients. It would not generate as much savings as was originally considered but with this price increase, current patients might well consider switching.



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