PRESCRIPTION SPENDING SLOWS IN AUSTRALIA

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IMS Health, a private analysis firm, has reported that prescription medicine spending in Australia has fallen below the country's rate of inflation — a statistic that has led many to question the government's recent drug-pricing maneuvers.

The rate of prescription-dispensing for most drug categories slowed in 2005, as well. Even the market for cardiovascular drugs, which had been rising at an average annual rate of 6 percent, did not exhibit any significant growth. According to IMS, this slowing is due in large part to the "heavy" 25 percent increase in prescription co-payments introduced by the Australian government in January 2005. The measure lifted the price of prescriptions by roughly $4 for standard consumers and $1 for pensioners.

The country's Ministry of Health, however, cites other reasons for the lack of market growth, citing a drop in antidepressant usage and the withdrawal of the arthritis drug Vioxx. A spokesperson for Health Minister Tony Abbot recently commented that data from the government's Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme would be updated in the upcoming May 9 budget.