Inadequate funding for medical imaging

Medicare funding for diagnostic imaging services faced by many patients could be life-threatening.

 

Cancer patients and medical experts across Australia are demanding the Federal Government boost Medicare funding for diagnostic imaging services, claiming the financial burden faced by many patients could be life-threatening.

 

According to patient support group Cancer Voices Australia, the most seriously ill members of the community are shouldering a sizeable cost burden every time they are referred for a scan or x-ray at a private radiology clinic due to chronic underfunding for radiology and a lack of indexation of Medicare rebates.

 

“Early and accurate diagnosis saves lives and yet the cost of providing these services is now 20

to 30 per cent higher than the Medicare rebate,” said the Chairman of Cancer Voices Australia

and a cancer patient himself, Dr Ian Roos OAM.

 

“Many patients fighting life-threatening illness are finding it increasingly difficult to fund the gap.

 

Unless something is done many will forgo tests to identify, track and treat serious diseases simply because they cannot afford the diagnostic imaging service,” he said.

 

In a day of action, radiology practices across Australia will throw their doors open on Tuesday, 22 March and join forces with cancer patient advocates to highlight the impact of the widening gap paid by many Australians requiring radiology services. The 12 participating radiology practices represent the 12 years since the Medicare Scheduled Fee for radiology services was increased.

 

Through the ‘Putting a Face to the Image’ campaign Cancer Voices Australia, the Warwick Foundation and the peak radiology provider group, the Australian Diagnostic Imaging Association hope to shift the Government’s position on Medicare funding for radiology services ahead of the upcoming Federal Budget.

 

They are calling on the Federal Government to halt the decline in funding for patients requiring radiology services and to index, for the first time in 12 years, the Medicare patient rebate for radiology services.

 

“We want politicians to understand that this issue impacts thousands of Australians every day and that it’s often the sickest of patients who pay the most,” Dr Roos said.

 

“Last year Australians paid around $300 million to finance the gap between the dwindling Medicare rebate and the rising cost of imaging services,” he said.

 

Unlike many medical procedures, Medicare rebates for imaging services are not indexed to the cost of living and have not changed in the past 12 years.

 

The Australian Diagnostic Imaging Association (ADIA) has warned that unless the Government acts now, clinics will have no choice but to cut costs and services will inevitably decline.

 

“This situation is totally unsustainable. Radiology practices can no longer absorb the rising cost of specialist staff and state-of-the-art equipment and patients are finding it increasingly difficult to cover the ever-increasing payment gap,” said Dr Ron Shnier, President of ADIA.

 

This week’s ‘Putting a Face to the Image’ day of action follows a letter-writing campaign which saw more than 25,000 letters sent by sick and financially stressed Australians to the Federal Minister for Health and Ageing, Hon. Nicola Roxon MP.

 

Most described their struggle to pay the average gap of $77 per imaging procedure. Many said they had postponed crucial diagnostic services because of the cost. Some accused the Government of adding to the strain they faced at a very difficult time in their lives.

 

“I have a family history of breast cancer,” wrote Christine of Frankston in Victoria. “My sister died at 57 because she could not afford a mammogram when it could have saved her life.”

 

“Sometimes we just don’t have the money to pay,” explained George of Hornsby in NSW.

 

“We know that Members of Parliament care about patients but we need them to act now to close the gap between what diagnostic imaging services actually cost and what the Government pays,” Dr Roos.

 

(Issued on behalf of Cancer Voices Australia (www.cancervoicesaustralia.org.au ), the Warwick Foundation (www.thewarwickfoundation.org.au ) and the Australian Diagnostic Imaging Association (www.adia.asn.au).)

 

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22 March 2011.