Government relents on pandemic response as data reveals spike in treatments

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The federal government has relented with a new telehealth Medicare item to support the prescribing of the PBS-listed COVID-19 treatments while new data reveals a significant spike in their utilisation.

Health minister Mark Butler confirmed the decision on Saturday along with a range of other backflips on COVID-19 support.

Mr Butler announced that Medicare will cover a long consultation by a general practitioner for the purpose of prescribing the COVID-19 treatments.

He said the temporary change, which will come into effect this week, will cover a longer consultation by phone to ensure antivirals are safely prescribed by doctors and ensure as many people as possible can access these treatments.

“People can get antivirals by a telehealth video or phone consultation with a doctor, but they need to act fast," he said. “My priority is getting people access to these remarkable antiviral treatments. Doctors have told me it will be easier to get antivirals prescribed if they have access to this telehealth measure, and that is why the Government has acted today."

The new telehealth item comes as updated data from market intelligence firms NostraData and IQVIA reveal a dramatic spike in the use of the two PBS-listed therapies.

MSD's LAGEVRIO (molnupiravir) was listed on the PBS on 1 March. Pfizer's PAXLOVID (nirmatrelvir and ritonavir), which is sponsored on the PBS by the Department of Health, was listed on 1 April.

Data to the end of June revealed just 54,000 prescriptions of the two therapies had been dispensed since March. This has jumped to around 80,000 in the first two weeks of July.

The significant spike follows a recent decision to widen access to the therapies and more promotion of their availability.