Pathologists will continue to bulk bill following an agreement with the Federal Government after months of debate over the proposed cuts to bulk-billing incentives for pathology and diagnostic imaging services.
The Coalition agreed to delay the cuts by three months while it provides a solution to the high costs of rent being paid by pathology collection centres.
While the Government will still carry out the cuts – a move that they say will save $650 million over four years – the deal means pathologists will absorb the costs of the cuts and maintain the exiting bulk-billing rates.
The Announcement of the Deal
CEO of Pathology Australia Liesel Wett said the deal came about after collaboration with Government on a solution that will ensure the sustainability of the sector.
“The commitment by the Coalition to ensure affordable access to pathology services is in the best interests of patients, the pathology sector and the Government. It will ensure that competition is based on service and quality and will foster a more diversified sector where patient choice will be enhanced”.
As a result of the deal, Pathology Australia closed their “Don’t Kill Bulk Bill” petition which had 600,000 signatures from across the country. The petition against the incentive cuts had warned patients that they may have to pay for vital tests and services could close.
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull announced the deal during Friday night’s leaders debate at the Windsor RSL in Sydney.
“Sussan Ley, our Health Minister, has reached an agreement with the pathologists, Pathology Australia, and they will be continuing to bulk-bill,” Turnbull said.
“So, the concern that has been expressed about patients who go to have their blood tests done and so forth, being charged extra, not being bulk-billed, that concern is gone.”
In a statement, Health Minister Sussan Ley said the Pathology sector had identified to the Coalition in April that high rent costs were the biggest threat to the sustainability of bulk billing for patients, and as such, the Government is addressing this.
“The Coalition has reached agreement with Pathology Australia that a returned Turnbull Coalition Government will take immediate action to reduce regulatory cost pressures on pathology providers,” Ley said.
“This includes legislating to address ambiguities and improve compliance regarding the charging of ‘fair market value’ rents for pathology collection centres by landlords.
“These changes will allow the pathology sector to continue to provide all Australians affordable access to pathology services through maintaining current bulk billing rates.”
Opposition response – “Turnbull dragged kicking and screaming to a band aid fix on pathology”
In response to the announcement, the Labor party said the Government was only backing down as a result of pressure from the Federal Opposition and because of fears of an electoral backlash.
On Sunday, Federal Opposition Leader Bill Shorten said the Prime Minister should be ashamed.
“What this Government’s doing is cutting the bulk billing incentives for pathology laboratories and for diagnostic imaging businesses, x-rays, CAT-scans, PET-scans, MRIs. Now Mr Turnbull on Friday night, deliberately set out to create a false impression in the mind of Australian voters that this pathology issue is over,” Shorten said.
“This issue is only delayed, it is not fixed and the cuts to bulk billing have been banked by a ruthless Coalition Government who have no love or support for Medicare, certainly not by their policies.
“What they’ve actually done is resolve another matter of tension with pathology labs about the cost of rents, but they have not dealt with bulk billing issue, all they’ve done is delayed it by three months.”
On Saturday, Mr Shorten put it another way.
“Last night, Mr Turnbull has been dragged kicking and screaming to a band aid fix on pathology,” he said.
“We’ve heard the speeches that the Government gave in Parliament just before the Parliament rose, where on one hand Labor said we want to keep the bulk-billing incentives so that Australians can get the vital medical treatment they need, and be able to use bulk billing so that they’re not discouraged by high costs, and as recently as the last week of Parliament, the Liberal Party were folding their arms and saying we don’t care and now what’s happened is that they’ve forgotten the X-ray’s, the MRI’s, the CAT scans, the PET scans – this is a Government that cannot be trusted with the health of the nation.”
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