Culture

The Government Face Backlash About Sneakily Getting You To Pay For Blood Tests And Pap Smears

We don't need ANOTHER reason to avoid pap smears, thanks.

[Update 3pm]: Federal Health Minister Sussan Ley has since responded to the backlash against the cuts claiming the changes will not affect pap smears like first thought. In a statement given to the ABC she said there may not be any price increases at all for patients as the changes instead directly affect pathology providers and GPs.

“Medicare is not designed to be a guaranteed bankable revenue for corporations,” Ley said, suggesting the cost could be absorbed by the companies rather than charged to consumers. Some experts from the pathology field have agreed with this suggestion saying it’s entirely feasible.

Additionally, the Sydney Morning Herald have pointed out that pap smears will be phased out from 2017 regardless. As part of the National Cervical Screening Program — the good folk responsible for jabbing you with that really painful vaccination when you were younger — people will instead be receiving HPV tests every five years (significantly less frequent than the current recommended two years for paps).

Bad news: this test operates in pretty much the exact same way as a pap smear.

Better news: it will still be covered by the Medical Benefits Schedule.

Conclusions? Everything’s still a little up in the air. The effect this has on you, if any, will be decided in the coming months when the pathology corporations decide how to deal with the changes. This could absolutely still result in increased out-of-pocket costs, and if it does, the government will certainly have a handy way to shift the blame.

Whether you threw your phone off a cliff on your last day of work, were lounging around on a beach somewhere without internet, or stuck in a never-ending family argument about why you’re not married yet, it’s pretty likely you didn’t see the government’s announcement of cuts to the Medicare Benefits Scheme last month.

I certainly didn’t. And, with Health Minister Sussan Ley dropping the news in the same pre-Christmas period that saw Jamie Briggs’ and Mal Brough’s resignations and the axing of funding for the Gonski education reforms, I think the same can be said of many journalists across the country. Perhaps all but those who were sitting alone having minor panic attacks in empty newsrooms.

Though initially reported by outlets such as the ABC and The Australian, these cuts have now become a major talking point after a piece from Mammamia yesterday which broke down exactly what they could mean for people in practice. After the changes were first proposed in mid-December, the government are intending to cut bulk-billing incentive payments for pathology tests and MRI services. This means that from July 1 you could suffer significant out-of-pocket costs for an X-ray, ultrasound and MRI and drop around $30 for each blood test, urine test, and pap smear.

Considering there are already plenty of people who shy away from having a stranger shove a hard piece of plastic into their vagina, open them up like a turkey, and scrape their organs with a spiky rod, that last one especially is causing a lot of trouble.

Though the cuts are intended to save $650 million over four years, the government have stated that only half of that figure will go back into the health department and medical professionals have warned that could lead to real problems later on.

“If laboratories decide they have to go to a patient copayment, people will stop having pap smears,” Royal College of Pathologists of Australia president Michael Harrison told AAP. “They’ll stop having their other tests done and people will present with advanced disease including advanced cancer. That’s just a statement of fact, that’s what happens.”

In response to all this, a Change.org petition has sprung up overnight calling on the federal Health Department to keep pathology services free. It already has more than 15,000 supporters.

“It is disgusting that your government is cutting bulk-billing incentives for pap smears, MRIs, urine/blood tests, X-rays and ultrasounds,” it reads. “These cuts are unfair to the average Australian, but will especially hurt women. Free and accessible pathology tests are key to ensuring early detection of cervical cancer, STIs, UTIs and pregnancy. Late detection will lead to MORE cost to the taxpayer in the long run. These essential services are a backbone of our world class healthcare system.”

Stating “only action will stop these cuts”, the petition’s creator has also launched a Facebook page for a rally next month. Though a tentative date of February 20 has been set, a location is yet to be decided. In the past few hours, people from Sydney, Adelaide, Melbourne and Canberra have put up their hands to organise separate state-based events and others have shared their personal reasons for supporting the protest.

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In the wake of all this, Australian Unions has also started campaigning against the cuts online and female Labor politicians such as Tanya Plibersek and Sue Lines have denounced the move with the latter speaking to the government’s treatment of women more generally.

Whether you have a vagina, a chronic illness, a dire bank account, or are simply a human with compassion and/or the ability to get sick at some point, this’ll be worth keeping an eye on.

You can sign the petition against the cuts here.