19.1 The ALRC is required to examine and report on the impact on ‘the cost-effective provision of healthcare in Australia’ of current patent laws and practices related to genetic materials and technologies. The Terms of Reference refer to the potential for rapid advances in human genome research and genetic technologies to improve human health.

19.2 This chapter discusses the possible impact of gene patents on the healthcare system. It begins by presenting background information on the Australian healthcare system, how it is funded, and how decisions are made about funding medical services and pharmaceuticals through the Medicare Benefits Scheme (MBS) and the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS).

19.3 The chapter discusses how gene patents may contribute to the cost of healthcare, and the possible implications of gene patents for healthcare funding. The chapter examines whether the healthcare system is able to accommodate the introduction of new genetic medical technologies and, in particular, to deal with any problems of cost or access attributable to gene patents. The chapter makes recommendations with respect to:

  • the need for economic evaluation of genetic medical technologies and examination of the financial impact of gene patents on the delivery of healthcare services in Australia;

  • the possible role of government funding and purchasing power in controlling the cost to the healthcare system of genetic materials and technologies; and

  • how Commonwealth, state and territory health departments, with advice from the proposed Human Genetics Commission of Australia (HGCA),[1] may better manage legal and other issues relating to gene patents.

[1] See Australian Law Reform Commission and Australian Health Ethics Committee, Essentially Yours: The Protection of Human Genetic Information in Australia, ALRC 96 (2003), rec 5–1.