World Hepatitis Day

Press Conference – Parkes, ACT

28 July 2016

Sussan Ley:   Well, good morning, it’s lovely to be here on a two degree Canberra morning at the edge of the beautiful lake, with Jane Little whose home is Melbourne but who’s come here today to help talk about what this government’s cure for Hepatitis C has meant for her and other patients. On World Hepatitis Day today, I want to really, really enthusiastically endorse 5000 Australian patients who are now free of Hep C, 20,000 Australian patients who have started treatment, (out of) a total number of more than 230,000 and the opportunity that we now have to cure this disease within a generation, a debilitating blood borne virus that in Jane’s case she didn’t even know she had for many years and we know from talking to doctors that you can have advanced liver disease and really be incredibly unwell, not realising what it is and what you need to do for treatment.

And the fact that those cures are now available in tablet form, 12 weeks of tablets and free of the disease, I think is remarkable. And I want to make one further point before I introduce Jane to talk about her circumstances, that as a government, we can only deliver $1 billion to cure Hepatitis C if we can pay for it and we have been able to. And if we look back to previous governments who stopped the listing of drugs on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme because they didn’t have the money to pay for them. I really want to make a very strong statement about this government’s determination to continue our record from previously. We listed three times as many medicines as Labor and we’ll continue to do that without fear or favour.

When I found out as Health Minister that these cures were available, I wanted to make them available to every single Australian patient, not to pick a cohort that was more sick than another group and, you know, start rationing the treatment, but to say to every single Australian patient with Hepatitis C, we are here as your government investing what taxpayers expect us to do in the cures of the future and we are a government who can deliver these cures because we can pay for them. So, yes, World Hepatitis Day today. Jane thank you, thank you for talking about the need to step up and avail yourself of a cure as a patient and putting some of the stigma aside and really recognising that this is a terrific good news story when it comes to medicines and I’d love you to say a few words. 

Jane Little:               Yeah, certainly, before I took up treatment I had to reduce my work capacity, I was very tired, I had sleeplessness and concentration problems, headaches, joint pain. After diagnosis, it took me quite a few years to be able to get on to treatment because the oral treatments weren’t available to me for- because of a rheumatoid factor in my blood. So, I had to wait for the new treatment so when the announcement was made 19 December last year, I was just so overjoyed because I was actually with my family that day and it was quite an emotional day because I knew I could have optimum health with these new treatments, I’d done my research and I knew that in 12 weeks, with the genotype that I had, I would be clear of the virus and I could be there with my full health potential for my family and restart my life which was on hold for quite a few years while I was waiting for the new treatment.

 So, I’m really grateful to the Government for listing this on the PBS and I’m actually clear of the virus now after 12 weeks treatment. I was actually clear on my four week blood test so I’m overjoyed about that and just to be there for my children and grandchildren and family, extended family and to be able to utilise my full potential, both in work doing more speaking for Hepatitis C, urging people to get out there, get to their GP, have all the tests they need and get onto the treatment. You know, after four weeks I was bounding with energy and just felt fantastic and it’s just so fantastic that the Government is supporting equal treatment access for this drug and I just really urge anyone that’s sitting there thinking that they can’t come forward to come forward, get to their doctor, have the tests and you’ll be free of the virus within either 12 or 24 weeks. So, thank you so much.

Sussan Ley:              Thank you. Any questions, for Jane or for me, about this subject? I think we’ve covered it all. Thank you.

Question:                 Minister, do you support the Federal Government nominating Kevin Rudd for the UN top job?

Sussan Ley:              That’s a matter we’ll discuss in cabinet today and there are lots of views around the table, I’m happy to listen to the lead from my colleague Julie Bishop, the Foreign Minister and pick up the discussion from there.

Question:                 Do you have a personal opinion?

Sussan Ley:              I don’t have a personal opinion at this stage. I’m delighted to, as I said, take the lead from Julie, listen to colleagues and participate in what I’m sure will be a vigorous discussion.

Question:                 Just on the rebate freeze for Medicare, that was a huge issue for your government at the election. It almost cost you the election. Will you be talking to cabinet say about lifting that freeze?

Sussan Ley:              We have a section of cabinet where we discuss issues of the day and I would be surprised if health wasn’t raised. But what I want to do is reassure Australian patients that bulk billing rates at 85 per cent are higher under us than they ever were under Labor and my commitment to patients is that we have a sustainable and affordable Medicare system that provides them with the highest quality access to their doctors in primary care. The discussions I’ve already commenced with the AMA and with different patient groups and organisations, are all focused around that high quality care and I’m delighted that we, as a government, will work in partnership with all of those who want to deliver quality care.,

So, it isn’t just about government being the receiver of the request and the deliverer of the dollars, it’s about that partnership. It’s about the need to work together with health providers as we’re about to do in our health care homes, a new model of primary care, a new model of payment for doctor- for doctors but importantly, best practice and best possible care for patients in a health care home where you attend your usual GP, it’s different from fee-for-service, it’s better for patients with chronic disease and it’s all about keeping those health dollars as close to the patient as possible.

Question:                 The AMA says it wants a firm timeline on when that freeze would be lifted. Would you like to see it lifted before 2020?

Sussan Ley:              We’ll have those discussions with my colleagues, we have a budget process to go through and that’s a process the AMA has recognised and understands. So, you know, I’m committed, as I said, to delivering in partnership with doctors and practitioners, the best possible model of care for patients and I know it’s something that every single member of parliament is very interested in contributing to. 

Question:                 The AMA president says that patients who can afford to see a GP should pay a co-payment. Is that something you’re willing to put back on the table?
Sussan Ley:              Co-payments are not government policy, we dealt with that in the last parliament, our position hasn’t changed. Any questions on anything else or get out of the cold I think Jane.

Jane Little:               [Laughs]

Sussan Ley:              Thank you all very much.