Severe asthmatics can breathe a little easier following the announcement of $130 million in federal funding to subsidise two medications on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS).
From February 2017, Spiriva Respimat and Nucala will be subsidised for four years, bringing relief to some of the 2.5 million people in Australia who suffer the chronic respiratory condition.
Federal Health Minister Susan Ley said despite the availability of several medicines for asthma on the PBS, many patients still experienced uncontrolled symptoms.
“These drugs will really make a difference for the 20 to 40 per cent of asthmatics who need extra help and extra medication, for whom the normal daily treatments don’t work very well,” she said.
Ms Ley said asthma was one of the most common, chronic, long-term diseases and the announcement would be “enormously beneficial” to those who suffer severe strains.
“Spiriva Respimat helps open airways to improve a patient’s breathing and reduce the likelihood of asthma flare-ups or exacerbations,” she said.
Ms Ley said the subsidy for that drug will save patients around $700 a year, benefitting approximately 26,000 people in 2017 and increasing to around 67,000 patients per year.
“Nucala helps people with severe eosinophillic asthma, which results in persistent airway inflammation causing more severe symptoms and a poorer prognosis,” she said.
“The subsidy [for Nucala] will benefit 370 people, who would otherwise pay $21,000 a year for the treatment.”
Asthmatics relying on reliever medication
National Asthma Council Australia chief executive Kristine Whorlow said while fatality rates had dropped about 400 people in Australia still die every year from asthma every year.
She feared too many asthmatics were relying on reliever medication, rather than preventative drugs.
“Severe asthma can be extremely debilitating and your quality of life is greatly reduced,” Ms Whorlow said.
“Reliever medication Ventolin, Bricanyl, Asmol and Aeromere are good to use in an emergency, but the important medicines prescribed for you are long-term preventer medications.”
Ms Whorlow said the eight asthma death sparked by last month’s storms in Melbourne highlight how severe the condition can be.
“Unfortunately Australia has had the big wake-up call recently with the thunderstorm epidemic in Melbourne, the worst one we’ve ever had so far,” she said.
With this year’s bushfire season underway asthmatics are reminded to have regular check-ups with their GPs, know how to properly use inhalers, take preventative medications regularly and prepare a written action plan detailing in case symptoms get worse.
Asthma is one of nine national health priority areas for the government.
Symptoms include wheezing, coughing, breathlessness and attacks that often lead to hospitalisation.