PBS forecast revised up again

'The Facts'

Forecast spending on the PBS over the forward estimates shows little real growth, but has been revised up in a Budget for the first time in several years (see analysis: 2015-16 PBS Budget.pdf).

The PBS is now forecast to grow at an average annual rate of around 4 per cent over the forward estimates, up from previous foreacsts, reflecting the cost of new listings and higher prescription volumes.

Compared to last year's Budget, the cost of the PBS over the four years - 2014-15 to 2017-18 - is around $1 billion higher.

This is significant simply because it shows that the era of what were massive reform-driven downward revisions has come to an end.

One official described it as the end of 'atorvastatin-rosuvastatin' era. At their peak, the two cholesterol-lowering blockbusters were responsible for $1-in-$10 of all PBS spending, a figure that has plummeted to $1-in-$25.

Importantly, it also reflects the fact that most future savings from from price disclosure have been budgeted.

The Department of Health's Portfolio Budget Statements reveal almost no growth in forecast savings from the policy that is budgeted to deliver around $13 billion in savings over the forward estimates.

Future growth is significantly driven by the rising cost of the hospital-focussed highly specialised drugs category, which is expected to increase its share of PBS spending from 23.8 per cent this year to 28 per cent by 2018-19.

As a share of total Commonwealth health spending, the PBS will remain at around 16 per cent over the forward estimates.

The wildcard is that, as confirmed by officials at yesterday's media lock-up in Parliament House, the forward estimates do not currently include any savings from the yet-to-be announced 'PBS Access and Sustainability Package'.