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Podcasts about Australia for intermediate learners of English

Podcast 153 – The Cost of Prescription Medicines in Australia


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Learn English while learning about daily life in Australia, with Rob McCormack

Podcast Number 153 – The Cost of Prescription Medicines in Australia  

(This podcast is 13 minutes and 42 seconds long.)


We all know that medicines are important for keeping us healthy and having a long and active life.  Sickness and injury can affect anybody at any time, so it’s important that all Australians can afford the safest and most effective medicines.  Often, people may require a particular medicine for an extended period.  I’m sure we all know somebody who has to take tablets on a regular basis.

Some people need to take several medicine tablets a day in order to stay healthy, especially as we get older.
Image by Steve Buissinne from Pixabay

In this podcast, I would like to talk a little about a government health scheme in Australia called the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme, or PBS for short.  Pharmaceutical means relating to medicines.  The PBS covers the medicines which your doctor prescribes and has the aim of providing safe, effective and affordable medicines to all Australians.  I don’t claim to be an expert on this topic, and will provide only a summary here, as the full scheme is complicated.  For full and accurate information, please refer to the government website at, or

When you consult a doctor, they may prescribe a medicine for you, to help you get well or to help keep you well.  They will write out a prescription for you naming the particular medicine and how and when you must take it.

One of my local pharmacies. You can see the counter at the rear where you hand over your prescription. The pharmacist then prepares your prescription medicine.

Normally, a prescription will be for a course of the medicine.  The course might be for a week or 2 months or some shorter period, whatever the doctor thinks is necessary to treat your health issue.  The price of these medicines can vary a great deal.  Pharmaceutical companies take a long time to develop them and must invest large amounts to do so.  The price they charge will reflect that time and investment cost, as well as the cost of making the medicine.  The total price for a medicine could be less than $30, or it could be in the hundreds or even thousands of dollars, or more, for just one prescription.  However, with medicines listed on the PBS, the patient pays only a small, capped payment for each prescription, called the co-payment.   The government pays the remaining part of the price, called the subsidy.

In 2024, the maximum patient co-payment is $31.60 per prescription.  (This amount is adjusted annually according to inflation).  It doesn’t matter how much the medicine costs to buy from the pharmaceutical company.  For example, some newer cancer medicines are very expensive.   Despite that, the patient co-payment is no more than $31.60 per prescription.  The government pays the subsidy.  For pensioners, for people with a concession card and for military veterans, the patient co-payment is no more than $7.70 per prescription.  This scheme, along with the Medicare system for paying doctors and hospital fees (which I covered in Podcast 13), helps ensure that all Australians can afford the healthcare that they need to stay healthy, whether they are rich or poor.

As a further cost saving measure for patients, there are annual restrictions on how much a family must pay for medicines in any one calendar year.  This is called the Safety Net.  The Safety Net helps families who require a lot of medicines and it saves them money.  Once you and your immediate family have spent up to the Safety Net cap for the year, then the co-payment for each prescription will drop to $7.70 for the rest of that calendar year.  For pensioners, concession card holders and military veterans, the co-payment drops to $0 per prescription.  Of course, once the calendar year is over, the Safety Net starts from zero again and you go back to paying the normal $31.60 co-payment (or whatever the revised amount is each year).   In 2024, the Safety Net cap is around $1650 per family per year.  It is also adjusted annually.  This means that, once your family has paid this amount in co-payments (around 50-60 prescriptions), the safety net is reached and you start paying the reduced co-payment for the rest of the calendar year.

So, the PBS is an important part of the Australian health system.  It makes high quality medicines affordable for all sick Australians.  In order to be eligible, you must be either an Australian citizen or a permanent resident.  Australians and permanent residents will need to show the pharmacist their Medicare Card when they present their prescription.  In addition, visitors who are citizens of certain countries may also be covered by the PBS for medicines when they are in Australia.  These countries have what is called a Reciprocal Health Care Agreement with the Australian government.  The countries are Belgium, Finland, Italy, Malta, New Zealand, United Kingdom, Netherlands, Norway, Slovenia, Sweden and Ireland.  Likewise, when Australians are visiting these countries, they can get access to certain medical care at reduced cost.  (See

The PBS list of medicines is very long, with thousands of approved medicines listed.  Putting new medicines onto the PBS list does not happen automatically and not all new medicines are included.  Each new medicine must first pass an evaluation by the Therapeutic Goods Administration, or TGA for short, a government organisation here in Australia.  The TGA evaluates each medicine for safety, quality and effectiveness and must approve it before it can be sold in Australia.  However, this does not mean it will receive a government subsidy through the PBS.  Once a medicine is approved for sale by the TGA, it must then undergo a separate evaluation by the Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee, or PBAC for short.  This group is also appointed by the government and makes recommendations about including the medicine on the PBS list.  This expert committee evaluates not only the safety, quality and effectiveness, but also the cost-effectiveness of the medicine compared to other existing medicines.  They consider the impact on the government’s budget if this medicine were to be placed on the PBS.  In other words, this committee also considers the ‘value for money’ question.  The Minister for Health in the government then receives the PBAC recommendations and makes the final decision as to whether it will be listed on the PBS.  That process normally takes many months.  All these processes sound complicated, however I think it’s important that approval is only given after all aspects have been considered – both medical and financial aspects.

Here’s some interesting facts about the PBS.  In financial year 2021/22, there were 215 million prescriptions subsidized under the PBS.  The subsidies for these prescriptions cost the government around $14.4 billion.  The patients for these prescriptions paid around $1.6 billion in co-payments.  You can see that the savings are large for all Australians.

I sometimes see a news report on the daily 6pm news about a new life saving medicine passing through all the approval steps and finally being added to the PBS.  These stories are always good news.  One example recently was a new medicine for treating advanced prostate cancer.  The new medicine costs around $42,000 for a full year of tablets per patient.  That amount is out of reach for many Australian men.  Now that it has been listed on the PBS, a patient will pay (in 2024) no more than $31.60 per month.  In total, for a full year, the patient will only pay around $380 for 12 prescriptions. The government pays the rest.

I think such stories are wonderful to hear.   In my opinion, the PBS is one of the best aspects of our health system.

If you have a question or comment to make, please leave it in the comments box at the bottom of this page. Or, you can send me an email at  I would love to hear from you.  Tell me where you live, a little bit about yourself and what you think of my Slow English podcast.  I will write back to you, in English of course.  If you would like to take a short quiz to see if you have understood this podcast, you will also find it on my website. Goodbye until next time.



Podcast 153 Quiz - Did you understand the podcast?

You can take the quiz as many times as you like.


access = when you are able to get something that not all people can get

active = when you do lots of things in your daily life

adjusted according to inflation = has been changed due to inflation in the economy

advanced prostate cancer = cancer of the prostate where it is already very bad

afford = when you have enough money to pay for something

annual = yearly (every 12 months)

approve = to give your agreement

aspects = different parts of something, different viewpoints about something

automatically = without any approval, without any delay

budget = the total amount of money you have available to spend

calendar year = from 1 January to 31 December

cap/capped = (here) a limit, you can’t have more than this amount

citizen = a person who was born in a country and lives there

claim = (here) to say that you can do something special

compared = when you decide if something is better, worse or just different to something else

complicated = when something has many different parts, hard to understand

concession card = a card given by the government which lowers certain costs for you

considered = thought about

consult = ask for advice or help (used when you ask a doctor for their advice)

cost-effective = when something is ‘value for money’, the price is not too high

course = (here) a treatment with medicine, from start to finish, or for a particular timeframe

effective = when something works well, it achieves its purpose

effectiveness = how well something achieves its purpose

evaluation = a test

existing = already there

expensive = costs a lot

expert = someone who knows a lot about a subject

extended = longer or bigger

financial = to do with money

immediate family = a couple, or a couple and their children who are dependent on them

impact = how something is affected by something else

included = added

injury = when your body is damaged in an accident

invest = when you spend money in order to build or develop something new

listed = put onto a list of things

medical = to do with the health of someone

Medicare Card = an Australian government card which says you can get medical benefits

medicines = something used to help sick or injured people get healthy again

pensioners = people who have retired from work and no longer have a job

period = a length of time (for example 2 months or a year)

permanent resident = a person who was born in one country but now lives in another country

prescribes = to write down a medical treatment, usually including a medicine

prescription = a written request by a doctor asking for particular medicine to be provided to a sick patient

providing = to give, to make available

reciprocal = when one person gives something to another and they give the same in return

recommendation = to tell another person what they should do

reduced = made smaller

regular = happens again and again

require = need

restrictions = limits, the point after which things are not allowed to change greatly

revised = changed

scheme = a system, a set of steps to achieve something

tablets = small amounts of medicine, usually shaped like a wheel

treat = (here) doing things to help a person overcome sickness or injury

vary = change

veterans = people who have previously worked in the military (army, navy, airforce)


  1. Hi Rob,
    Once again I learned a lot from you. After reading this podcast, I can easily understand a story on 9 News on May 9, which was about two of lifesaving heart disease medicines, Vyndamax and Camzyos, had been added to the PBS. Without government subsidies, Vyndamax would likely cost around $122,000 for a full year of tablets per patient, That amount is staggering. Your contribution was much appreciated.
    Best regards,

    • Hi Dep,
      Many thanks for your comment and your kind words. Yes, the PBS is one of the best government support schemes we have here in Australia. The example you give is a very good one. Such examples often feature on the television news and I always think to myself – that is our taxes being well spent.
      Best regards,

  2. Hi Rob,
    I hope everything is going well for you and your family.
    My family and I are from Iran, and we currently live in Tehran. We are eagerly waiting the approval of our QLD 190 visas.
    I want to express my gratitude for your engaging podcasts, which have proven beneficial for immigrants and newcomers seeking to enhance their English skills and gain insights into Australian culture and daily life. I’ve listened to your all podcasts.
    In my view, you have a heart of gold.
    Apart from the Slow English website, do you have any public profiles on social media platforms such as Instagram and Facebook?
    Stay safe and healthy.
    Best wishes,

    • Hi Masoud,
      Many thanks for your comment. It is an excellent achievement to have listened to all my podcasts. Well done! I really appreciate your kind words about my podcast. Regarding other social media platforms, I also have a Facebook page which you can follow.
      I hope your visas arrive soon. Sunny Queensland is a great part of Australia. I’m sure you and your family will enjoy living and working there.
      Have a great day.

  3. Hi, Rob, this is a wonderful topic! Help us to better understand how Australian government takes a big part of Australians’ health. And it makes me think, if everybody can live in a healthier life style: eating healthy food, exercising regularly, it will save a lot of money for our government!

    • Hi Ines. Many thanks for your comment and thanks for your feedback about the topic. You have made an interesting point. I agree with you. Well said! Just another good reason to try and live a healthy lifestyle.
      Have a great day.

  4. Rob, Another excellent podcast on the PBS! Though a beneficiary of the PBS I have gained a deeper appreciation of this egalitarian system we take for granted in Australia. Thanks for the enlightenment! Chris

    • Hi Chris. Many thanks for your comment and kind words. I agree that we tend to take our support systems for granted. In researching this topic I was surprised and impressed with how effective the PBS is. Our taxes are well spent on the PBS in my view.

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