PBS reformer departs public service today

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One of the most significant influencers on PBS policy and drivers of reform officially retires from the public service today.

Department of Health secretary Martin Bowles PSM confirmed in a message to staff yesterday Felicity McNeill PSM is retiring from the public service after a career spanning two decades.

It is understood Ms McNeill is departing the public service but is considering a number of potential opportunities.

Ms McNeill, who has most recently served as CEO of the Organ and Tissue Authority, led the Department of Health's Pharmaceutical Benefits Division from 2010 to 2015.

During her tenure, she negotiated structural reforms to the PBS, with significant pricing changes incorporated in multiple rounds of reform, ultimately leading to a dramatic transformation in the scheme.

As a measure of her influence on the sector, the story confirming her departure from the Pharmaceuticals Benefits Division in 2015 remains the most read PharmaDispatch article, ever, even exceeding publication of the then yet to be announced measures included in the 2015 PBS Access and Sustainability Package.

She oversaw the listing of $6 billion in new listings, including many new cancer therapies and high-cost drugs, including Myozyme for late-onset Pompe Disease. Ms McNeill was also instrumental in driving the policy change that ultimately enabled the widest possible access to the new direct-acting antivirals to treat hepatitis C.

Ms McNeill led development of the 2015 PBS Access and Sustainability Package, including the Sixth Community Pharmacy Agreement and strategic agreement between government and the generics industry, which is budgeted to deliver $6.6 billion in savings with a reinvestment in services of $2.8 billion.

Maybe less well-known were her reported efforts to defend the current structure of the PBS from reforms proposed in the 2013 Department of Finance strategic review of the scheme. 

She was awarded a Public Service Medal in the 2016 Australia Day Awards for her work on the PBS.

According to the citation, "Ms McNeill's leadership, policy creativity and skills in negotiating with politicians and interest groups to reform the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS), in her role with the Pharmaceutical Benefits Division of the Department of Health, reflect the highest standards of public service excellence.

"The core of PBS reform over the past five years comprised two outstanding policies relating to pricing of, and access to, medicines. Specifically, the development and implementation of both the Price Disclosure reforms and the PBS Accessibility and Sustainability Package of measures. Both of these reforms relied heavily on Ms McNeill's intellectual strength and ability to find innovative solutions to complex problems, as well as her persistence, negotiating skills and hard work.

"The savings generated by these two reforms have made it possible for new, very high cost drugs to be PBS listed, treating conditions such as diabetes, HIV, rare forms of cancer and cystic fibrosis without the total cost of the PBS becoming unsustainable. Without the PBS subsidy, these drugs would cost a patient up to $300,000 a year."