Cancer risk: Coalition cuts to pathology rebates threaten women’s health
IMPORTANT medical procedures that protect women’s health and can prevent cancer are under attack from a Coalition move to change rebates for pathology services.
Women will have to pay for pap smears under changes revealed by the federal government in its budget update in December.
Scrapping the bulk-billing incentive to health professionals for pathology services and reducing the incentive for diagnostic imaging will have a direct negative impact on the health of thousands of women, experts warn.
The changes will apply to pap smears, because although the procedure is usually carried out by GPs, the samples taken are sent to pathology companies for analysis.
Labor, Unions and the Greens are fighting the move, and opposition health spokeswoman, Catherine King, warned scrapping the incentive payment would have a “direct impact on women’s health”.
“Pap smears continue to be a very important health measure that stops cervical cancer, and we want to encourage women to have their regular pap smears,” said Ms King.
Now, Unions are backing a campaign to fight the cuts.
And online petition calling on the government to halt the changes to the incentive payments was drawn up this week, and in less than 24 hours it had 29,000 signatures.
The petition is backed by the president of the Royal College of Pathologists Australasia, Michael Harrison, who warns pap smears could cost women $30, and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) could cost $173.
Author of the petition and official of the New South Wales branch of the National Tertiary Education Union, Brigitte Garozzo, pointed out the tests are vital in the fight against cancer.
“These cuts are unfair to the average Australian, but will especially hurt women,” she said.
“Free and accessible pathology tests are key to ensuring early detection of cervical cancer, sexually transmitted infections, urinary tract infections and pregnancy.”
The Greens leader, Richard Di Natale, a former GP, said reducing the payments would mean women seeking pap smears would have to pay extra.
“To put an upfront charge in front of important medical technologies and interventions … is putting a barrier in front of women,” he said.
Last month Health Minister Sussan Ley said 23 Medicare items are under review, and admitted some patients could be worse off under the changes.
“Alleged claims by pathologists about the potential cost of raising their prices as a result of any changes are also misleading, because they have omitted the value of the Medicare rebate a patient receives from the government to help cover this very cost,” she said.
But President of the Royal. President of the Australian Diagnostic Imaging Association Dr Christian Wriedt labelled the changes bad policy.
“This will make it much more difficult for many patients to receive the life-saving level of care they need… if Medicare exists to help people, this doesn’t make sense” she said.
And there are warnings the cuts will also hit crucial services for women with breast cancer.
The Australian Diagnostic Imaging Association is warning of up front costs of between $300 and $500, and out of pocket expenses of up to $300.
“The decision to rip $650 million out of Medicare by slashing bulk billing for diagnostic imaging and pathology will hurt patients, by forcing cancer patients, and others with critical health conditions to either pay more or skip vital scans and tests” said Ms King.
The changes come into effect on July 1.
Working Life is a forum to share ideas and opinions about work and life, both light-hearted and serious. The opinions presented on Working Life are those of the author, and do not necessarily represent policies or views of the ACTU.