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PM admits thousands to forego tests because of co-payment

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Thousands of potentially deadly illnesses may go undetected until they are well advanced because of the Federal Government’s $7 co-payment for diagnostic imaging services and other Budget measures, it has been claimed.

As the Federal Government continues to struggle to secure the support it needs to introduce its co-payment, Prime Minister Tony Abbott has admitted that there are likely to be a million fewer diagnostic imaging tests each year, many of them for potentially fatal conditions such as breast cancer and liver metastasis, by 2017.

Asked by Opposition Leader Bill Shorten in Question Time last week whether he was aware of estimates there would be 680,000 fewer such tests in 2015-16 and about one million less by 2017, the Prime Minister said that “the short answer is yes and yes”.

“We were advised in the lead-up to the Budget that, as a result of the decision by the Government to…seek to have a modest co-payment for visits to the GP and visits to the diagnostician, there could be a 1 per cent reduction in the total usage of these services,” Mr Abbott told Parliament. “At the moment, there are well over 100 million GP visits a year, and about a 1 per cent reduction to these services was the estimate we were given.”

The AMA and other groups including the Australian Diagnostic Imaging Association have for months warned that the introduction of a $7 co-payment, together with other changes including $5 cut to Medicare rebates, the axing of bulk billing incentives and an end to subsidies for high cost PET and CAT scans, will push the cost of some diagnostic imaging tests out of the reach of many patients, putting lives at risk.

The ADIA has warned that patients may have to stump up $380 for a CAT scan, up to $160 for a mammogram, $190 for an ultrasound and up to $1000 for a PET scan.

Asked in Parliament by Shadow Health Minister Catherine King about ADIA estimates that general patients might be charged up to $2207 for a liver metastasis diagnosis, Mr Abbott responded that “in the end, what people are charged is a matter for the doctors”.

Ms King said the Government’s policy could have potentially disastrous consequences for patient health.

“Mr Abbott has confirmed that, when announcing the GP tax, he was well aware that for many general patients, those sorts of costs will be unaffordable, and they will be forced to skip crucial tests and treatments,” she said. “Those who do miss important scans are likely to get sicker, require even more extensive treatment, and end up costing the health system much, much more.”

The Government so far withheld legislation for its co-payment model as it tries to negotiate support for the measure from key crossbench Senators. Its plan has been rejected by Labor, the Australian Greens and the Palmer United Party.

Adrian Rollins