In Australia, government-subsidised access to high-cost medicines is "targeted" to particular sub-sets of patients under the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme to achieve cost-effective use. In order to determine how this access system could be improved, the opinions of key stakeholders on access to biological agents for rheumatoid arthritis were explored.
Thirty-six semi-structured interviews were conducted with persons from relevant stakeholder groups. These were transcribed verbatim, and analysed thematically.
Controlled access to expensive medicines was considered to be equitable and practical; however, there was disagreement as to the method of defining the target patient populations. Other concerns included timeliness of access, excessive bureaucracy, and the need for additional resources to facilitate the scheme. Collaboration between stakeholders was deemed important because it allows more equitable distribution of limited resources. The majority considered that stakeholder consultation should have been broader. Most wanted increased transparency of the decision-making process, ongoing and timely review of access criteria, and an increased provision of information for patients. More structured communication between stakeholders was proposed.
The Pharmaceutical Benefit Scheme is adapting to meet the changing needs of patients. Provision of subsidised access to high-cost medicines in a manner that is affordable for individuals and society, and that is equitable and efficiently managed is challenging. The views of stakeholders on targeted access to anti-rheumatic biological medicines in Australia acknowledged this challenge and provided a number of suggestions for modifications. These could serve as a basis to inform the debate on how to change the processes and policies so as to improve the scheme.