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Radiologists abandon campaign on promise of Govt review

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The Coalition has convinced the diagnostic imaging industry to drop its campaign against cuts to bulk billing incentives in exchange for a review of the commercial pressures the sector is working under.

After last month striking a peace deal with pathologists to end a damaging campaign over the axing of bulk billing incentives for pathology services, the Government has headed off similar action by the nation’s radiology providers.

Health Minister Sussan Ley announced on 5 June that the Coalition, if re-elected, would commission an “independent evaluation…of the commercial pressures facing diagnostic imaging providers”.

Ms Ley said the evaluation would also be used to help identify ways to make Government spending more targeted and efficient.

“Advancing technology in many areas of the health system creates a much more efficient and automated service, leading to decreased costs,” the Minister said. “However, this is not the case for most diagnostic imaging services, which need specialist doctors to supervise the examination and analyse the results, not machines.

“This independent evaluation will ensure we can work together with the diagnostic imaging sector to pinpoint exactly where possible improvements can be made in the broader system, and ensure this significant additional investment is targeted where it will have the most benefit for patients.”

Ms Ley up to $50 million a year could be saved through greater efficiencies in Government spending.

The Minister’s announcement came just days before the Australian Diagnostic Imaging Association planned to launch a public campaign warning that cuts to bulk billing incentives, coming on top of an 18-year freeze on patient rebates, would force the cost of crucial of crucial diagnostic and treatment services beyond the reach of many patients, including those with cancer.

The Association had said that average out-of-pocket costs for x-rays, ultrasounds, CTs and MRIs had reached $100, and practices were “extremely concerned” that the freeze on rebates would “continue to drive more patients away from essential diagnosis and treatment”.

But, following Ms Ley’s announcement, Association Chief Executive Officer Pattie Beerens said she was confident the Coalition’s plan, which includes maintaining the bulk billing incentive for concession card holders and children, a three-year moratorium on changes to Diagnostic Imaging Services Table and a resumption of rebate indexation in 2020, would “show a path” to adequate Medicare rebates.

“We had to fight the case for patients and we are really pleased that our advocacy has resulted in the diagnostic imaging sector and the Government working constructively to achieve a positive outcome for patients, providers and taxpayers,” Ms Beerens said.

Adrian Rollins

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