Medicare incentives cuts to add cost to diagnostic imaging

SouthernX Radiology regional manager Ben Brock (left), Member for Blair Shayne Neumann and chief technologist Jamie McMullen have concerns about budget cuts to Medicare incentives.
SouthernX Radiology regional manager Ben Brock (left), Member for Blair Shayne Neumann and chief technologist Jamie McMullen have concerns about budget cuts to Medicare incentives. David Nielsen

PATIENTS without a concession card will fork out up to $150 for medical imaging that is currently free once budget cuts to Medicare bulk-billing incentives come into effect in July.

The warning has come from SouthernX Radiology management and Blair MP Shayne Neumann, who met on Thursday over SouthernX's concerns for patient costs.

At one of the two SouthernX clinics in Ipswich, an average 35 patients a day use the MRI machine. It was installed only six months ago is the only fully Medicare-funded MRI machine in the region.

The majority of patients who use it or the clinic's other machines don't pay anything for the procedure thanks to the funding the providers get from the Federal Government.

But that funding is due to be cut from July 1 as incentives paid to providers change drastically.

Incentives for general diagnostic imaging will now only be paid for patients on a concession card or under the age of 16. The incentive for MRI procedures done on funded machines will also be reduced by 5%.

Diagnostic imaging and pathology testing are the two services that will absorb the most cuts, and SouthernX Radiology Queensland general manager Bronwyn Nicholson said the gap would have to be passed on to patients.

The two Ipswich clinics treat more than 250 patients a day and perform up to 300 procedures.

Mr Neumann said the reduction in incentives for many of those procedures would push up the cost of health care long-term as patients were pushed back into the public system.

He said the budget cuts would heavily affect the low socio-economic seat of Blair and would stop people from accessing tests or imaging.

He said figures put forward by the Australian Diagnostic Imaging Association predicted patients would be worse off by $62-$173 per procedure.

Ms Nicholson said the gaps SouthernX has already had to introduce on procedures where Medicare incentives don't cover the cost were anywhere from $50-150.

"Most of them fall around $100," she said.

"Patients have said they can't afford it."

Ms Nicholson said unlike pathology, diagnostic imaging costs came from the need for highly qualified staff to work one-on-one with patients. She said an ultrasound, which takes about half an hour to perform and requires a staff member with a post-graduate degree, received $85 from the government per procedure.

"It's already hard enough for us to do that without charging gaps," she said.

The budget cuts are yet to be finalised after they were introduced at the Federal Government's Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook.


NOTE: The print edition of this story said SouthernX was the only provider in Ipswich with a funded MRI machine, and other providers have expressed concern that this could cause some confusion for readers regarding other funded services in Ipswich.  SouthernX is the only provider with a fully funded MRI machine in the region.

Queensland Diagnostic Imaging also has a partially funded MRI machine at their Limestone St centre.

A spokeswoman said the service bulk bills all eligible MRIs and bulk billed all patients for procedures that were Medicare-eligible.

Topics:  bulk-billing medicare shayne neumann

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