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Advertising to the public

Complying with the Therapeutic Goods Advertising Code (No. 2) 2018

16 July 2020

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Schedule 4 - Price Information

Guidance on specific Code provisions

The numbering of the sections corresponds to the numbering of the Code provisions for ease of cross-reference. However, this guidance does not cover all sections of the Code so the numbering may not be sequential.

Allowing the inclusion of price information for prescription and certain other medicines in advertisements benefits consumers by providing additional information to assist in their choice of what medicines to purchase and allows consumers to select the 'best buy'. The availability of price information for prescription medicines also promotes greater competition amongst suppliers with associated price reductions.

1 Purpose

This Schedule is intended to set out the requirements as to how information about the prices of prescription medicines can lawfully be provided to the public. Schedule 4 of the Code replaces the Price Information Code of Practice 2006.

2 Application

The requirements set out in Schedule 4 of the Code apply to the provision, to the public, of price information for prescription medicines and some pharmacist-only medicines.

These medicines are supplied through specific arrangements for special needs access or specialised drugs.

Price information cannot be provided for medicines listed on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) which are supplied through these kinds of alternative arrangements under section 100 of the National Health Act 1953.

However, price information on dispensing fees for buprenorphine hydrochloride and methadone hydrochloride should be available in support of the treatment of opiate dependence.

3 Who may provide price information

Price information can only be made available to the public by retail pharmacists or their agents, pharmacy marketing groups, and dispensing doctors. Other medical practitioners and health professionals cannot provide price information. This is consistent with the purpose of this Schedule of providing price information for consumers to consider when purchasing their medicine. It also prevents manufacturers or sponsors from providing price information about their range of medicines. Pharmacy marketing groups, who are also sponsors of therapeutic goods, are permitted to provide price information on behalf of nominated pharmacists, subject to meeting all applicable requirements.

4 Responsibility for compliance with this schedule

Persons who distribute price information are not responsible for its compliance with this schedule unless they are also the suppliers of the price information. For example, dispensing doctors or pharmacists who provide patients or customers with price information pamphlets that identify other suppliers of the medicines referred to in that information are not responsible for ensuring that the information complies with this schedule. Those identified in the information as the suppliers of the medicine are responsible for compliance.

Where a pharmacy marketing group prepares and arranges for the publication of price information on behalf of a group of pharmacists, the pharmacists identified in the price information will be responsible for its compliance with the Schedule.

5 Methods for provision of price information

Methods by which price information can be provided include newspapers, magazines, leaflets, and the internet. Special requirements are specified for online price information identified through a search function.

Suppliers are not precluded from generally advertising their services and indicating that price lists are available on request, provided that the advertisement does not mention particular prescription medicines or classes of medicine, or the substances that they contain. For more information on advertising services, see Advertising therapeutic goods with a related service in the ARGATG.

6 General requirement restricting promotion

Advertisers should note that the inclusion of any representation, whether explicit or implied, about the therapeutic use of a medicine in price information will always be considered to be promotional and therefore incompatible with Schedule 4.

Price information on medicines cannot be accompanied by, or be located near, pictures, photographs or illustrations of any of the medicines to which this schedule applies. Examples of the location of pictures, photographs or illustrations that would contravene this paragraph are:

  • a picture of a medicine listed in price information (for example of a pill, bottle or pack) that is in the same catalogue put out by a group of pharmacists as the price information list
  • a photograph of a medicine listed in price information in a newspaper that is on the adjacent page or the next page following the list
  • a price information list located within a 'background collage' of illustrations of medicines to which this schedule applies

This section prohibits the use of adjectives or phrases that qualify the name of the medicine, sponsor's pack size or formula of the medicine; or terms indicating the predicted or recommended length of supply.

Examples of adjectives and qualifications prohibited by this section include:

  • adjectives describing the medicine, including 'new' and 'improved'
  • describing the pack size like 'small', 'large', 'jumbo'
  • 'one month's supply', 'thirty normal doses'

Price information must not:

  • promote the purchase of particular quantities or multiple packs, except as provided under Clause 7 of the Schedule
  • use comparative adjectives or words to qualify the price to be paid for the medicine

Examples of presentations prohibited by these sections include:

  • 'two for one'
  • wording that indicates the price of the medicine is particularly cheap - 'now only', 'save on 100 tablet pack'

This provision needs to be considered in the context of requirements around presenting pack sizes - see section 7(2).

This section prohibits giving any prominence to the text of the name, description or price of a medicine compared to the remainder of the price information text.

Examples of presentations prohibited by this section include providing the name, description or price of a medicine in text that is:

  • bolded or italicised
  • a different colour
  • a different font or size
  • surrounded by a border, highlighting
  • in any other way distinguished from the remainder of the price information list

This section prohibits price lists from:

  • including the offer of rewards or bonus points, or
  • being included with any other advertising that promotes such rewards or bonus points

This section prohibits limiting or qualifying the availability of the price of the medicines in the list, other than by including a statement of validity or expiry of the price.

Acceptable representations include, for example:

  • prices current as at 1 March 2019
  • prices expire 30 August 2019

Any expiry date included in a price list must allow for a reasonable period in which consumers can purchase the medicine at the listed price. Otherwise, the price list is likely to encourage consumers to seek out their medicines before they are needed, which would be considered advertising.

Examples of presentations prohibited by this section include:

  • 'today only'
  • listing a normal price and 'members price'
  • use of tag lines and other information that would be likely to encourage the promotion of price comparisons, including between retail pharmacy outlets, such as 'we are the cheapest', 'we will not be beaten on price'

The content of a price list must be limited to the medicines (including the descriptions), the price for each medicine and where the medicines can be obtained (see section 7). As such, the use of embellishments is prohibited under this provision.

This section prohibits price information from being accompanied by (or located in proximity to) other information that would lead a consumer to infer that a medicine in the price list will cure or alleviate particular diseases, conditions ailments or defects.

An example of arrangements prohibited by this provision:

  • a pharmacy catalogue with a price list on one page, which includes various strengths and brands of metformin, with an article on the opposite page about how metformin works to reduce blood glucose levels in diabetics

Price information must include at least 25 medicines. However, this does not apply to price information for medicines provided in accordance with clause 5(2) of this schedule – that is, where prices are identified through a search function included in an electronic sales system (for example through the pharmacy website).

This section also requires that price information be accompanied by name and contact details for the pharmacy at which the medicines listed can be obtained at the listed price.

7 Description of medicines

Medicines must be described in price information using the name of the medicine as defined in Therapeutic Goods Order No. 91 - Standard for labels of prescription and related medicines, or Therapeutic Goods Order No. 92 - Standard for labels of non-prescription medicines, as appropriate to the Schedule of the Poisons Standard for the medicine. Label standards and the Poisons Standard can be accessed at www.legislation.gov.au.

Price information must include, for each medicine:

  • if there is more than one strength of a form of the medicine - the strength of each active ingredient as it appears on the label of the medicine
  • the form in which the medicine is presented and
  • the price for the relevant number of units of the sponsor's standard pack

The relevant number of units of the sponsor's standard pack is either:

  • the maximum number of units that may be prescribed under the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme or Repatriation Benefits Scheme, where they permit more than one unit of the sponsor's pack to be prescribed, or
  • one unit

It also provides that the need for a prescription for a particular medicine may also be indicated in the price information.

8 Presentation of price information

Medicines must be listed in alphabetical order by either:

  • name
  • OR

  • the names of active ingredients

Medicines can also be grouped according to the schedule of the Poisons Standard in which they are included. However, there must be sufficient numbers of medicines from each schedule so that consumers are not directed to a particular medicine and there are medicines from three or more sponsors included. Within each group of scheduled medicines, the medicines must still be listed in alphabetical order as set out above.

9 Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme subsidised medicines

If a pharmacy marketing group publishes price information which includes both a PBS subsidised medicine with a brand premium or therapeutic group premium, and the group's own generic medicine, that information must include at least one other bench-mark price brand of that medicine in addition to their own medicine (where such products exist). This ensures that 'house brands' sold by a retail supplier cannot be given prominence over other comparable brands.

Medicines subsidised under the PBS must be identified and the total purchase price must be clearly identified as the general or concessional price. Both prices may be provided.

Price lists which include a PBS subsidised medicine must include an indication that the price is subsidised by the Australian Government, and only applies when prescribed for the medical conditions listed in the PBS Schedule for that medicine. Note however, that the actual condition must not be mentioned.

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