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Medicines and the PBS
Many drugs – especially chemotherapy, targeted therapy and immunotherapy drugs – are expensive. The Australian Government’s Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) subsidises the cost of many prescription medicines for people with a current Medicare card.
Learn more about:
- Concession cards and allowances
- PBS Safety Net
- Generic medicines
- Non-PBS prescriptions
- Paying for medicines
Some PBS medicines are cheaper for people with a Pensioner Concession Card, Commonwealth Seniors Health Card, Health Care Card or Department of Veterans’ Affairs Health Card. You will need to show your card to the pharmacist when you get your prescription filled.
People who receive some Centrelink payments may be eligible for a Pharmaceutical Allowance, which can help to cover the costs of prescription medicines. For information and to check if you qualify, visit the Department of Human Services.
The PBS Safety Net further reduces the cost of PBS medicines once you or your family have spent a certain amount on them each year. This amount is known as the Safety Net threshold. When you reach the threshold, your pharmacist can give you a PBS Safety Net card, and your prescription medicines for the rest of the year will be discounted (or free if you have an eligible concession card). For more information, call the PBS Information Line on 1800 020 613 or visit pbs.gov.au.
Your pharmacist may ask if you would like a generic brand of your prescribed medicine. Generic medicines contain the same active ingredients as more expensive brands. The medicine may look different, but it still meets the high standards of quality, safety and effectiveness set by the Therapeutic Goods Administration, which regulates medicines sold in Australia. It is your choice whether to buy the generic or original brand.
Doctors may prescribe a medicine that is not on the PBS. This is known as a private prescription and you will need to pay the full price. It may cost more than PBS medicines and it will not count towards the PBS Safety Net. Private health insurance may cover some or all of the cost of a private prescription. Check with your insurer.
Toni Ashmore, Cancer and Ambulatory Services, Canberra Health Services, ACT; Baker McKenzie, Pro Bono Legal Adviser, NSW; Marion Bamblett, Acting Nurse Unit Manager, Cancer Centre, South Metropolitan Health Service, Fiona Stanley Hospital, WA; David Briggs, Consumer; Naomi Catchpole, Social Worker, Metro South Health, Princess Alexandra Hospital, QLD; Tarishi Desai, Legal Research Officer, McCabe Centre for Law and Cancer, VIC; Kathryn Dwan, Manager, Policy and Research, Health Care Consumers Association, ACT; Hayley Jones, Manager, Treatment and Supportive Care, McCabe Centre for Law and Cancer, VIC; Victoria Lear, Cancer Care Coordinator, Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital, QLD; Deb Roffe, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council SA; Michelle Smerdon, National Pro Bono Manager, Cancer Council NSW.
View the Cancer Council NSW editorial policy.