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Expansion of Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme Continued Dispensing Arrangements Covid-19

Page last updated: 31 March 2020

Frequently Asked Questions

The Australian Government has extended the temporary Continued Dispensing (Emergency Measures) for three months to 30 June 2020, to assist in managing the demand on the health system during the COVID-19 outbreak. An extension of these arrangements will provide another option for consumers to continue to access their PBS subsidised medicines, if they are having difficulty accessing a prescriber to obtain a valid prescription.

These arrangements will apply to most PBS/RPBS medicines supplied through community pharmacies which includes medicines used for asthma, lung disease, diabetes, heart disease and mental illness. This means that Australians who are having difficulty accessing their medical practitioner for a new prescription can obtain a one-off standard quantity of eligible PBS/RPBS medicines subsidised under the PBS without a prescription. The patient must previously have been prescribed this medicine and the pharmacist must be satisfied that it is urgently needed and it is not practicable to obtain a new prescription.

These arrangements complement emergency supply provisions available under state and territory legislation. This includes “owing prescription” arrangements, which enable a prescriber to direct a pharmacist to supply a medicine to a patient in an emergency situation, and then provide a paper prescription to the pharmacy. The emergency supply provisions under the states and territories law generally permit a pharmacist to supply a small amount of most prescription medicines in the absence of a valid prescription (generally up to 3 days’ supply), however this supply is not covered by the PBS and the cost must be met by the patient.

In addition, the Australian Government has recently introduced measures to help reduce the risk of community transmission of COVID-19 and provide protection for patients and health care providers. These include:

  • The new temporary Medicare Benefits Schedule (MBS) telehealth (phone or video) items are available to GPs, Medical Practitioners, nurse practitioners, participating midwives and allied health providers. All Medicare eligible Australians can now receive these services. All services provided using the new temporary MBS telehealth items must be bulkbilled;
  • Special arrangements to enable prescribers to provide a pharmacy with a digital image (via fax, email or text message) of a prescription for a vulnerable patient who has had a telehealth consultation. More information about this arrangement can be found on the Health website; and
  • The implementation of electronic prescribing (e-Prescribing) has been accelerated and will become increasingly available to general practices and community pharmacies from the end of May 2020. More information about electronic prescribing can be found on the Health website.

These alternative provisions should be considered before utilising Continued Dispensing arrangements.

For Patients

What should I do if I have run out of my medicines and/or prescriptions and cannot see a doctor to obtain a new one?

If you are unable to see a medical practitioner face-to-face to obtain a prescription, you should check whether they can provide a telehealth appointment by either phone or video. If they cannot, you should talk to a community pharmacist about other options. This does not have to be your usual pharmacist.

Do I have to see my doctor to get a follow-up prescription to give to the pharmacist?

You do not need to obtain a follow-up prescription for medicines that are supplied under the Continued Dispensing temporary arrangements.

What medicines can I get?

These temporary arrangements will apply to most PBS/RPBS medicines supplied by community pharmacies, which represent more than 70 per cent of all PBS listed items, including medicines used for asthma, lung disease, diabetes, heart disease, and mental illness. Please note that medicines supplied under section 100 Special Supply Arrangements are not available under these arrangements. This includes HIV medicines available through the Highly Specialised Drugs Program.

What will I have to pay for these medicines?

You will have to pay the relevant PBS/RPBS co-payment, depending on your concessional status. The current co-payment levels are $6.60 for concessional persons and up to $41.00 for general persons. If you have reached your PBS/RPBS safety net, your PBS/RPBS prescription cost will be reduced to the applicable PBS/RPBS co-payment rate.

Will these medicines count towards my PBS/RPBS Safety Net?

In most cases, these medicines will count towards your PBS/RPBS Safety Net.

However, for certain PBS medicines, there is a Safety Net 20 day rule.  This means that for certain PBS medicines a resupply within 20 days of having the previous medicine supplied will not count towards your Safety Net.  If you had already reached the Safety Net threshold, you will need to pay the relevant pre-Safety Net PBS co-payment, not the reduced Safety Net amount. Your pharmacist will be able to discuss this further with you if this is relevant.

I previously had my blood pressure medicine dispensed under Continued Dispensing because I couldn’t obtain a prescription from my doctor during the recent bushfires. I do not want to wait in a doctor’s surgery, just to get my script for this medicine I regularly take. Can I still have my blood pressure medicine dispensed under Continued Dispensing?

No. A pharmacist can only dispense a medicine under Continued Dispensing if a person has not had the medicine dispensed under Continued Dispensing in the last 12 months. There may be other options available to you which you should discuss with your medical practitioner or pharmacist.

The Government recently introduced a range of new measures to enable people to access health services in their home which you may be eligible for. More information on these and other measures is available on the Health website.

What do I do if I have lost my Medicare or Concession Card?

The pharmacist can contact Services Australia for assistance on getting this information. Alternatively, members of the general public can contact Services Australia on 132 011.

Will I be able to get my next supply of PBS medicines without a prescription?

A Continued Dispensing medicine can only be supplied once in a 12 month period. You will need to ensure that you speak to a doctor to get a prescription for any future supplies of these medicines. There may be other options available to you which you should discuss with your medical practitioner or pharmacist.

For Pharmacists

Please note that the Pharmaceutical Society of Australia (PSA) has guidance on the supply of medicines under the Continued Dispensing arrangements. You should read the Guidelines for the continued dispensing of eligible prescribed medicines by pharmacists before supplying medicines under these arrangements. The Guidelines are available from the PSA website.

The Pharmacy Guild of Australia has fact sheets on the emergency supply of medicines, and Services Australia provides an Education guide on the Continued Dispensing Initiative.

What do I need to do before I can dispense a medicine under these arrangements?

Before considering supply of medicines under Continued Dispensing arrangements, you should make sure that:

  • the person has an immediate need for the medicine;
  • circumstances prevented the person from accessing a prescriber (face-to-face or via telehealth) to obtain a new prescription;
  • it is not possible to obtain an “image based script” or approval for an “owing prescription” from a prescriber;
  • the medicine is eligible for supply under the arrangements (including under relevant state/territory legislation);
  • the person has been supplied the medicine in the last six months and their condition is stable;
  • the medicine has not been supplied under Continued Dispensing arrangements to the person by any pharmacy within the 12 months before the requested supply; and
  • it is safe and appropriate for the person to obtain the medicine.

What do I need to do to ensure the patient is eligible to have a medicine dispensed under Continued Dispensing?

You need to meet the requirements for dispensing under the Continued Dispensing arrangements, including confirming that the patient has an immediate need for the medicine and is not able to obtain a prescription from a Medical Practitioner and that the patient has not had the requested medicine dispensed from any pharmacy in the preceding 12 months under Continued Dispensing. Pharmacists are expected to adhere to the strict set of professional guidelines available on the PSA website.

I have a situation where I cannot dispense a medication under Continued Dispensing to a person because they have previously had this medicine dispensed under Continued Dispensing in the last 12 months. What other options are available?

Continued Dispensing complements other emergency supply provisions available under state and territory legislation, including the 3/7 day emergency supply rule and the “owing prescription” provision. You will need to comply with state and territory requirements.

The Australian Government recently introduced a range of new measures to enable people to access health services in their home which the person may be eligible for. More information on these and other measures is available on the Health website.

Do I have to get the person to sign anything?

Yes. You are required to get the person to sign a declaration acknowledging that they have been supplied with medicines under these arrangements.

Your pharmacy dispensing software (PDS) will generate a Modified Repeat Authorisation Form, which you can use to record:

  • the details of the Continued Dispensing supply; and
  • the person’s signature to show they received the medicine.

Your PDS will also generate a Consumer Declaration and Prescriber Notification Form, which you can use to:

  • show that the person understands they were supplied without consultation from their prescriber; and
  • notify the person's most recent prescriber, or clinical practice, that a Continued Dispensing supply was given.

Do I only need to comply with Commonwealth legislation or my state/territory legislation?

No. You also need to consider your relevant state and territory legislation.

What documentation do I need to keep?

You must record the information used to support your decision to supply medicine under Continued Dispensing. You must:

  • keep records for two (2) years from the date of supply
  • keep your records consistent with other records
  • comply with state or territory and Commonwealth legislation.

What medicines can I dispense under this new arrangement?

PBS items that can be supplied under Continued Dispensing arrangements will be flagged in dispensing software and PBS Online. These items include medicines used for asthma, lung disease, diabetes, heart disease, and mental illness. You also need to consider your relevant state and territory legislation.

Please note that medicines supplied under section 100 Special Supply Arrangements are not available under these arrangements. This includes Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) medicines available through the Highly Specialised Drugs Program.

Can I dispense Schedule 8 medicines under this arrangement?

Yes, provided you are compliant with your relevant state or territory legislation and accord with professional standards. Please note that some states and territories do not allow supply of Schedule 8 medicines without a valid prescription.

Does the person or prescriber need to provide a PBS prescription before I can make my PBS claim?

No. However, you should notify the person’s most recent prescriber, or their practice, in writing that a Continued Dispensing supply has been given to the person.

I know the person’s previous prescription was for an increased quantity. Can I supply that amountinstead of the standard PBS/RPBS quantity?

Yes, provided you are compliant with your relevant state or territory legislation. If your state and territory legislation allows, your pharmacy dispensing software will explain how to process a previous authority supply for an increased quantity as Continued Dispensing.

While the temporary Commonwealth provisions do not prohibit the Continued Dispensing for an increased quantity, state and territory provisions may not allow an emergency supply that is in excess of a standard PBS/RPBS quantity in the absence of a prescription.

Will I be able to make claims for streamlined or authority required items?

You will be able to make claims for any Continued Dispensing medicines, including those that are Authority Required (Streamlined) and Authority Required.

What should I do if the Continued Dispensing claim has been rejected?

If you have submitted a Continued Dispensing claim for an Authority Required medicine, ensure that your claim meets the legislative requirements (including your relevant state or territory legislative requirements) and guidelines.

If a Continued Dispensing claim for unrestricted or restricted medicine has been rejected, follow the advice provided by your pharmacy dispensing software (PDS). If you require further support, contact the PBS general enquiries line on 132 290 (Option 2).

What do I do if the person does not have their Medicare or health care card?

If persons do not have their Medicare, DVA or Centrelink card you should ring the PBS general enquiries line 132 290 (press option 1), for assistance.

For Prescribers

I have a situation where my patient is self-isolating and unable to attend my GP clinic to obtain a prescription for a medicine they regularly take. What options are available?

The Australian Government recently introduced a range of new measures to enable people to access health services in their home while they undergo self-isolation or quarantine, and reduce the risk of exposure to COVID-19 for vulnerable people in the community.

For example, you can provide telehealth services as the Australia Government recently introduced the temporary Medicare Benefits Schedule (MBS) items that will allow doctors, nurses, midwives and mental health professionals to deliver bulk billed telehealth services to patients.

Alternatively, you may be able to issue an “image based script” or use electronic prescribing (ePrescribing) to prepare an electronic prescription that can be shared with the patient’s pharmacy. The patient may be able to have their scripts dispensed by their pharmacy remotely, and the medicines delivered to their home using the Home Medicines Service. More information on these and other measures is available on the Health website.

What are the requirements for my patient to be supplied PBS medicines without a prescription under Continued Dispensing arrangements?

Before dispensing medicines under these Continued Dispensing arrangements, the pharmacist must be satisfied that:

  • the person has an immediate need for the medicine;
  • circumstances prevented the person from accessing a prescriber (face-to-face or via telehealth) to obtain a new prescription;
  • it is not possible to obtain an “image based script” or approval for an “owing prescription” from a prescriber;
  • the medicine is eligible for supply under the arrangements (including under relevant state/territory legislation);
  • the person has been supplied the medicine in the last six months and their condition is stable;
  • the medicine has not been supplied under Continued Dispensing arrangements to the person by any pharmacy within the 12 months before the requested supply; and
  • it is safe and appropriate for the person to obtain the medicine.

Will my patient continue to be able to get these medicines without a prescription?

No. A Continued Dispensing medicine can only be supplied once in a 12 month period. Your patient will need to ensure they obtain a prescription for any future supplies of their medicines.

I have received a notification that a person has been provided PBS medicines under the Continued Dispensing arrangements. Do I need to provide a follow-up prescription?

No. However, you may wish to engage with the person to ensure they obtain prescriptions for any future supplies of these medicines.

For Software Vendors

Will I require a Notice of Integration (NOI) from Services Australia?

A NOI will not be required for this change.

Will there be a Software Vendor Testing (SVT) Environment?

Software Vendor Testing environment will be available if you wish to conduct testing, however, it is not mandatory for this change. Technical documentation on changes required in Dispensing Software will be available from Medical Software Industry Association (MSIA). Alternatively, software vendors can contact Online Technical Support at Services Australia on 1300 550 115 (Monday to Friday 8.30 am to 5.00 pm AEST).

General PBS Enquiries

For general PBS enquiries, members of the public can phone the Department of Health PBS information Line on 1800 020 613, or alternatively email the Department of Health (pbs@health.gov.au).