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How to get medicines
From time to time, you may need medicine to treat or prevent health issues.
Over the counter
You can get some medicines over the counter at your pharmacy, or at a supermarket. These medicines generally treat minor conditions like headaches and hay fever.
You will have to pay the full cost for over the counter medicines.
From your doctor
When your health issue is more serious, your doctor may recommend stronger medicines. Your doctor will write you a prescription for these. You’ll need to take the prescription to a pharmacy to buy the medicine.
Examples of prescription medicines can include antibiotics and strong painkillers.
If you go to hospital, you may need some medicines when you’re there. Your doctor at the hospital can prescribe you the medicines you need. A nurse, doctor or pharmacist will give you the medicine.
If you’re admitted as a public patient in a public hospital, you may not have to pay for your medicine. Read more about health care and Medicare.
Prescription medicine types
When you get a prescription for medicine, you might have a choice between medicine types. The types include brand name medicines and generic medicines. It’s important to know that they are different. They both use the same active ingredient, but they may have different inactive ingredients.
It’s important to discuss which type you should get with your pharmacist or doctor.
Read more about generic medicines vs. brand-name medicines on the healthdirect website.
The Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) can help lower the cost of some prescription medicines. It doesn’t lower the cost of all prescription medicines.
You can use My Health Record to keep track of your medicines. Read about My Health Record on the Australian Digital Health Agency website.
How to get help with medicine costs
Some prescription medicines can cost a lot of money. To make these medicines more affordable, the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) can lower the cost.
The PBS offers reduced cost for PBS prescription medicines to Australian residents, some visitors, and concession card holders. You’ll need to enrol in Medicare to access it. When you enrol, we’ll give you a Medicare number.
You’ll need your Medicare number to access PBS medicines. Your number may already be on your prescription. If it’s not, you may be asked for it when you submit your prescription.
If you spend a lot on medicine
If you spend a lot on PBS medicines, the PBS Safety Net can reduce your costs. When you spend a certain amount and reach a threshold in a calendar year, you can get PBS medicines cheaper or for free for the rest of the year.
It’s best to discuss the PBS Safety Net with your pharmacist so they can keep track of your spending. If you go to different pharmacies, you’ll need to keep track of your spending.
Read more about the PBS Safety Net thresholds.
You can reach the PBS Safety Net using prescriptions filled at:
- community pharmacies
- private hospitals approved to supply PBS medicine, or
- out-patient pharmacies at public hospitals.
You’ll need to use a hospital Prescription Record form for this.
If you have a health care card
You may get PBS medicines at a further discount if you have:
- a Health Care Card
- a Commonwealth Seniors Health Card
- an Ex-Carer Allowance (Child) Health Care Card
- a Foster Child Health Care Card
- a Low Income Health Care Card
- a Pensioner Concession Card.
To save money you’ll need to show your card when you collect your PBS medicines. You won’t get a discount with over the counter medicines.
Read more about concession and health care cards.
You can get cheaper PBS medicines with a Department of Veterans’ Affairs (DVA) health card. Read more about veterans’ health cards on the DVA website.