Cancer and other chronic disease sufferers will be hit with significant advance costs for medical imaging and other pathology testing under the government’s proposed $7 GP co-payment, according to evidence given to a parliamentary committee on Wednesday.
The Australian Diagnostic Imaging Association has warned that previously undiscussed impacts of the fee mean people with the greatest need to get access to complex medical services will be the worst affected.
And many will remain worse off even after rebates are received.
The ADIA says a person suffering liver cancer will be hit with a fee of more than $1200 for scans, consultations and pathology and this figure will climb to more than $2200 if that cancer has metastasised, that is, spread beyond the liver.
In the first case, the cancer sufferer will be up to $264 worse off over a year and in the second case up to $678 worse off, according to the group’s modelling.
It says the hike stems from decisions that abolish the bulk-billing incentive from July 1 next year, an aspect of the GP co-payment package, which will have rebates for X-rays, MRI, PET scans and ultrasounds reduced from 95 to 85 per cent for patients who were previously bulk-billed.
Opposition Leader Bill Shorten said the modelling showed why the proposed fee was unfair and would continued to be opposed by Labor and the crossbench senators.
“The full extent of the pain from Tony Abbott’s GP tax goes way beyond the doctor’s surgery, with experts revealing cancer patients will now be forced to fork out thousands of dollars upfront to pay for MRI, X-rays, CAT scans and mammograms,” he said.
He said it was a “hidden trap” that would “force many cancer patients to pay extraordinary fees upfront, even those on healthcare and pensioner concession cards”.
“The trap exposes Tony Abbott’s GP tax as not just a tax on visits to the doctor, it’s also a pathology tax, a diagnostic imaging tax and an MRI tax.
“That’s because the impact of the GP tax is compounded by a 10-15 per cent cut in the rebate paid to radiologists, and the abolition of a safety net for high-cost diagnostic imaging services such as PET scans and nuclear medicine.
“According to the Australian Diagnostic Imaging Association, patients will be forced to pay $90 upfront for every X-ray, $380 for every CAT scan, up to $160 for every mammogram and $190 for every ultrasound. For those unfortunate enough to need a PET scan, the upfront cost could be as high as $1000.”
Mr Shorten claimed that, even after Medicare rebates, patients would be paying an extra $160 for every scan.
The aim of the GP co-payment was to raise $1.2 billion, much of which would be used to nourish a medical research fund.
The government justified the measure on the principle of the need for a price signal on doctors’ services, but the principle was never raised before the election.