Can you claim prescriptions and PBS medications?

Research & Insights

Can you claim prescriptions and PBS medications?

Updated December 2023 | 4 min read
Expert contributor Dr Andrew Cottrill, HCF Chief Medical Officer

Here’s what you need to know about claiming for prescription medicines and PBS medications through your private health cover.

Most of us buy prescription medication from time to time. For many drugs, we often pay only part of the cost because the rest is paid for by the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS). The PBS is a government program that subsidises medicines to make them more affordable.

However, as we’ll explain, not every medication is listed on the PBS. If your doctor prescribes one of these drugs, you’ll be faced with paying the full cost of the medication, which could be expensive. This is where private health insurance extras can sometimes help. To understand how it all works, it’s useful to know how drugs are assessed for the PBS.

Who decides which drugs go on the PBS medication list?

Before being considered for the PBS, new medication must first be approved by the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA), which is part of the Australian Government Department of Health and Aged Care. The TGA is responsible for regulating medicines, vaccines and other health-related products.

"Once the TGA gives a drug the tick of approval and says that it’s safe to use on patients in Australia, the drug then goes through the Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee (PBAC)," says HCF’s Chief Medical Officer, Dr Andrew Cottrill. "The primary role of the PBAC is to recommend new medicines for listing on the PBS."

"The PBAC considers the medical and cost effectiveness of different drugs. It looks at the clinical evidence, assesses whether there are similar drugs on the market, measures the drugs against each other and assesses what the clinical benefit of a particular drug may be."

This process, says Dr Cottrill, can take many months. "It’s a very in-depth undertaking carried out by medical experts," he explains. "So you can have a drug that has TGA approval but hasn’t yet got funding to appear on the PBS."

Does everyone have access to PBS medications?

If a drug does make it onto the PBS list, it doesn't mean everyone is entitled to the government subsidy for that medication. Eligibility could depend on factors like your age, sex and your medical condition and history.

So if your doctor wants to prescribe a drug that's on the PBS list, but you don't qualify for the subsidy, you'll be liable for the full cost. If this happens to you, it’s important to be open with your doctor about your ability to pay for your medication so you can find the best solution together.

Can I claim for PBS-listed medications as extras?

No. Government regulations prevent private health insurers from paying a benefit towards the cost of drugs that you can receive through the PBS. Because we can't determine whether individual members are eligible for the PBS subsidy, no drugs that are listed on the PBS qualify for an HCF extras benefit.

When could I claim for prescription medications?

If "pharmacy" or "vaccines and immunisations" are included on your extras cover, you may be able to claim for some non-PBS listed medicines, and vaccines. These could be drugs that are TGA approved (registered) but are either still being considered for inclusion on the PBS, or medication that didn't make the list for various reasons. They do need to be registered with the TGA though.

There are a number of exclusions when it comes to what HCF covers: over-the-counter, reproductive and weight loss medication are a few examples.

It's also important to know that if you're eligible to claim for a drug, after the deduction of a co-payment, the maximum benefit you can receive towards the cost is $50.

How can I find out if HCF covers my non-PBS drugs?

You can find the definition of 'pharmaceutical item' in our member guide. To check whether your specific medication is covered it’s best to call us on 13 13 34 so we can check it out for you.

Does HCF cover experimental drugs?

A drug is considered to be 'experimental' if it hasn’t yet been determined to be safe or effective. They're usually tried under strict medical supervision, like in the context of a clinical trial – a scientific study where drugs and medicines are assessed to see if they could be safely introduced as a new treatment for a specific disease or condition.

While people may be willing to try experimental drugs for a particular condition or disease, there may be unforeseen adverse events so it's important they're only used in a controlled setting such as a clinical trial. Private health insurers don't generally cover the cost of experimental drugs, treatments or procedures.

"HCF doesn’t cover experimental drugs because it's the responsibility of the drug company to fund research and provide the evidence to get the drug listed on the PBS," says Dr Cottrill.

More affordable healthcare

We know cost-of-living pressures can increase the cost of healthcare. Our partnership with Ramsay Health Care means HCF members get a 5% discount on selected purchases when signing up to the Ramsay Pharmacy better rewards program.

Related articles


We explain what can and can’t be covered, and how you can get the best value from your cover.


Investing in your health is one of the best ways you can future-proof your wellbeing, get treatment faster and even save money.


HCF was one of the first healthcare funds to make out-of-pocket costs more transparent for our members.


Why we opened our first HCF Eyecare centre in 1992 and how high-quality eye care and the experience in our centres keep members coming back.

Important Information

This communication contains information which is copyright to The Hospitals Contribution Fund of Australia Limited (HCF). It should not be copied, disclosed or distributed without the authority of HCF. Except as required by law, HCF does not represent, warrant and/or guarantee that this communication is free from errors, virus, interception or interference. All reasonable efforts have been taken to ensure the accuracy of material contained on this website. It’s not intended that this website be comprehensive or render advice. HCF members should rely on authoritative advice they seek from qualified practitioners in the health and medical fields as the information provided on this website is general information only and may not be suitable to individual circumstances or health needs. Please check with your health professional before making any dietary, medical or other health decisions as a result of reading this website.