Critics are rubbishing the Federal Government’s claim that cutting $650 million from radiology and pathology rebates will not hurt patients. Treasurer Scott Morrison announced on Tuesday that, from July next year, the $6 bulk billing incentive for pathology services would be scrapped, while the bulk billing incentive for radiology would be reduced. This includes […]
Critics are rubbishing the Federal Government’s claim that cutting $650 million from radiology and pathology rebates will not hurt patients.
Treasurer Scott Morrison announced on Tuesday that, from July next year, the $6 bulk billing incentive for pathology services would be scrapped, while the bulk billing incentive for radiology would be reduced. This includes cutting the incentive for MRI scans from 15% down to 10% of the MBS fee.
The cuts will generate $650.4m in savings over the next three financial years, which would help offset the Government’s fall in revenue due to collapsing iron ore prices.
Bulk billing incentives would continue to apply for patients with concession cards and children under 16 years of age – but only for diagnostic imaging services.
Health Minister Sussan Ley justified the cuts by saying the incentives were unnecessary because the “high level” of competition in the pathology and radiology sectors would keep prices down.
“Health dollars are at a premium and need to be invested where they will deliver the most benefit,” she said.
But her government’s justifications have been roundly criticised.
Health economist Stephen Duckett, of the Grattan Institute, questioned the level of competition in the pathology and radiology sectors, given their domination by large corporates.
Nevertheless he said the cuts would either be absorbed by these big corporate providers, by patients, or by a mixture of both.
He also said patients generally were reliant on advice from their GP on what tests or imaging were needed, and had little power to bargain or price-shop for tests.
“There is no word in the [Treasury’s] papers about what the government plans to do to protect consumers from being adversely impacted by these changes.”
Reaction from the profession
Medical groups were blindsided by Tuesday’s announcement, with the AMA and the Royal College of Pathologists of Australia (RACP) both saying they should have been consulted.
RACP president Dr Michael Harrison said patients would “very likely” suffer from the cuts, as laboratories would need to introduce co-payments.
“These cuts will disenfranchise a segment of the population and lead to increased non-compliance with their doctor’s requests for pathology testing due to the requirement of a co-payment,” Dr Harrison said on Wednesday.
This would lead to delays in diagnoses and compromised treatment of chronic diseases, he said.
AMA president Professor Brian Owler agreed, and accused the Government of putting the budget’s bottom line ahead of good health policy.
The AMA would lobby the Senate to block the measures, he said.
“These measures are simply resurrecting a part of the Government’s original ill-fated co-payment proposal from the 2014 budget. It is yet another co-payment by stealth.” he said on Tuesday.