t was a nasty surprise to hear that, in the lead up to Christmas, the government announced yet another measure targeting the affordability of healthcare.
This time, they’ve gone after essential pathology services and diagnostic procedures, including pap smears, MRIs, urine/blood tests, STI checks, x-rays and ultrasounds by cutting $650m from bulk billing incentive payments.
I am a 25-year-old woman who has thyroid problems and I require regular blood tests in order to stay healthy. Not only that, I rely on regular pap smears to stay safe from cervical cancer. Some of my friends were similarly outraged when they heard they might have to start paying for these services, so we worked together to start a campaign against these changes.
On Tuesday night, I started an online petition which attracted nearly 150,000 signatures in just 36 hours.
I started the petition because I am sick and tired of basic services coming under attack. Clearly I’m not alone in this anger, which is why this petition has resonated so strongly with so many people.
Many have been sharing their personal stories about their own chronic illnesses, family members who died because they failed to detect early signs of cancer and what co-payments for pathology would mean to them. Women in particular have been responding because of how this awful policy affects women’s routine check-ups such as pap smears.
Unfortunately, there’s been a lot of misinformation flying around about the current changes, including from health minister Sussan Ley. The statement put out by Ley doesn’t actually address her government’s cuts to bulk billing incentive payments.
She incorrectly insinuates that critics of the changes have claimed pap smears, blood tests and other pathology services will be removed from the Medicare rebate list, but that’s not true. No one has claimed that the government is removing these services from the Medicare rebate list.
What we are claiming is there are significant cuts being made to the bulk billing incentive payments that are paid to pathologists and practitioners when they carry out procedures.
Moreover, we are claiming that the government knows that when they implement these cuts, practitioners and pathologists are going to have to find the money they’re losing from elsewhere, and it’s going to be the patients who pay.
The Australian Medical Association (AMA), the Royal College of Pathologists of Australasia and the Australian Diagnostic Imaging Association have all agreed that patients will end up paying for essential tests, like blood and urine tests, pap smears, ultrasounds and MRIs.
The government is basically leaving it up to pathology companies and practitioners to decide whether they take the hit to their profit margin, or introduce fees to make up for lost funding. It’s no big secret what cost-saving option most will take.
Indeed, AMA president Brian Owler has called this move “another co-payment by stealth”.
The Coalition has been saying that these cuts will be better for patients, as pathology companies will compete and prices will remain free or will be low as a result. This is misleadingly optimistic – you can’t pull $650m out of the healthcare system and expect it to have no effect on patients.
Someone is going to pay for these cuts, and it’s going to be you and me.
Additionally, the government has been claiming that if people don’t like the price rises at their clinic, they should just go to another one. Well, not everyone has the luxury of just getting up and changing clinics. Take, for example, rural and regional folks who may have one pathology clinic in a 100km radius.
The government may be trying to save $650m, but they’re putting these costs onto those least able to afford it. It’s absurd that the government would continue to subsidise the big end of town, for example billions of dollars in tax exemptions for mining companies, but then choose to risk the health of people across the country by cutting healthcare funding.
I’m fed up, my friends are fed up, and it’s time to fight back.