Australians could pick up two months' worth of commonly prescribed medicines in a single trip to the chemist - and pay less for them - under a plan being considered by the federal government.
Pensioners and healthcare card holders would get two packets of Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme medicine for the price of one.
Health Minister Greg Hunt is negotiating a new agreement with the powerful Pharmacy Guild, and has put the previously shelved proposal back on the table.
But the powerful Guild remains opposed to the move, which would deliver cheaper medicines to millions of Australians, because it would halve the dispensing fee - most commonly $7.39 - that pharmacists charge for every packet of PBS medicine they sell.
Sydney pensioner Bev Dorrian, who takes daily blood pressure medication, welcomed the proposed change, which has the backing of medical experts and consumer advocates.
Mrs Dorrian said it would make life easier for the many Australians who took regular medication, including her husband who has a heart condition.
"I think it's probably more important for the older people, because some people may have trouble getting to the chemist," she said.
She added being able to pick up two packs at once would be handy for going away on holidays.
Grattan Institute health economist Stephen Duckett said the government should "absolutely" bring in two-pack prescriptions because it was in consumers' interest to do so.
Mr Hunt, who had abandoned the measure midway through the election campaign, declared "all relevant options" were on the table as he negotiated a new five-year deal with community pharmacists - including the shelved plan for two-month scripts.
The Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee, an independent expert panel that advises the federal government, recommended two-pack prescribing last year.
If implemented, the change was expected to save the federal budget tens of millions of dollars on 143 of the most commonly prescribed PBS medicines for which the government pays pharmacists a dispensing fee.
Mr Hunt ditched the change, which had been expected to appear in the federal budget in April, weeks out from the federal election after the Guild took out a full-page advertisement in The Australian newspaper warning against it.
The feared lobby group is a major donor to both sides of politics, with its 5700 members able to quickly mobilise and campaign through their stores with posters and pamphlets.
The minister said at the time that the appropriate forum to consult on the issue was the seventh community pharmacy agreement, which he plans to finalise by December and would take effect in mid-2020.
Mr Hunt said in a statement the government was "committed to leading early and inclusive negotiations" about the new pharmacy agreement.
I think it's probably more important for the older people, because some people may have trouble getting to the chemist.Pensioner Bev Dorrian
Health department bureaucrats held their first stakeholder meeting last month, with discount retailer Chemist Warehouse arguing to relax the rules that prevent it from opening dozens of new stores in regional towns.
But the Guild is fighting any change that might disadvantage the thousands of small, local pharmacist owners it represents, arguing that rural chemists would go out of business if protectionist rules were abandoned or dispensing fees were reduced.
Greg Turnbull, a spokesman for the Guild, said the lobby group remained concerned about the "unintended consequences" of the proposal.
Mr Turnbull warned it would be "inadvisable" for the government to pursue the measure, which would "pull the rug out from under local pharmacists' remuneration base".
In 2017-18 the Pharmacy Guild donated almost $140,000 to the Labor party, more than $40,000 to the Liberal party and $37,600 to the Nationals in 2017-18, according to the latest annual returns published by the Australian Electoral Commission.
The available data does not include funds donated in the lead-up to the 2019 election.
- SMH/The Age