Ultra-Fast Acting Insulin. Imagine being deprived of the only medicine that helped you live normally and managed your condition well. For type 1 diabetes patients in Australia, it’s the unexpected and troubling removal of the most affordable medication they’ve been using for better glycemic control. It may sound tragic, but the inevitable withdrawal of this medicine from the PBS can affect thousands of Australians.

What is PBS, and how the removal of Fiasp can affect diabetes patients?

The PBS, or the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme, is an Australian government program that provides reliable and affordable access to various medications. The program holds a list of all the medicines that patients can dispense and obtain at a government-subsidized price. The PBS is available to all Australian residents with a current and functional Medicare card.

One of the medications that PBS supports is the ultra-fast-acting insulin, Fiasp. However, the recent news about its removal from the program made shocking headlines.

On April 1, 2023, Fiasp’s manufacturer Novo Nordisk decided to remove the drug from the PBS program for commercial reasons. What does this removal mean?

First, people using Fiasp can no longer access it at a lower price. The drug will still be available via private prescription; however, the price can be costly. Second, because of the high cost, those who previously used Fiasp will be forced to use an alternative drug that may have different effects than Fiasp. For this part, many affected Australians have reported that stopping their Fiasp medication and using an alternative treatment can make it more challenging to manage their condition.

Fiasp subsidized access to remain until September

Approximately 14,000 Australians currently use Fiasp for type 1 diabetes. Luckily, the federal government secured continued access to the drug. However, this access is limited only to six months from the day the removal was announced. 

Although Fiasp remains accessible on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) until the end of September, there is an exemption to the movement. It is an arrangement called the Supply Only. Under this provision, only those who already have a prescription with Fiasp are allowed for refills over the next six months.

A doctor’s recommendation or approval is needed for those who only used the medication previously and did not have a current prescription. However, these patients can only proceed with the Supply Only arrangement if they get the recommendation before April 1.

The negative impact of Fiasp’s withdrawal from the PBS

Many Australians have been affected by the withdrawal of Fiasp from PBS. One of them is a 14-year-old girl Freya Goldston. She reported being able to act and feel normal because of the “incredible impact” of Fiasp. Goldston also added how the medication helped her improve, especially with doing swimming training and having the quality of life she wanted.

However, the withdrawal of the drug can mean a decline in blood sugar management. Her previous medication did not go well with her treatment. If she stops using this drug, she can either go with her old medication or seek an alternative. Either way, blood sugar management could be compromised.

Another sufferer of this news is Daniel Webb, who has been diagnosed with diabetic retinopathy. Mr. Webb reported being well while on treatment with Fiasp. However, because of the latest concern with the medication’s removal, he is re-evaluating if he could continue using it. This is due to the soaring price of the medication, which Mr. Webb estimated from $30 for two months to about $230.

What happens after the six-month Supply Only period?

The health minister of Australia, Mark Butler, told the press that Novo Nordisk’s decision was driven by money. Although these pharmaceutical companies aim to help the diabetes community, it is still profit that motivates and influences them to make these medications.

Australia’s government seeks more ways to ensure that Australians living with type 1 diabetes gets continuous access to fast-acting insulin treatment even after the Supply Only period.  The doctors are working on alternative treatment for their patients.