Cancer is one of the leading killers in Australia – it accounts for approximately 3 out of every 10 deaths. In many cases, it can strike without warning; young, old, rich, poor. Cancer doesn’t discriminate. Even the healthiest of people can be torn down by a cancerous cell.
The verdict from doctors is practically unanimous. If detected early, many cancers can be successfully treated. Instead of a guaranteed death sentence, a simple test can save the pain, heartache and trauma of millions of Australians and their families.
That simple test requires pathology services.
The same pathology services Health Minister Sussan Ley wants to decimate with her ill-informed and ominous cuts to the bulk billing incentive for providers.
The truth is harsh. The reality is brutal.
Sussan Ley’s plan to scrap the bulk billing incentive will result in preventable deaths.
The link is obvious. It doesn’t require a $100k degree to figure it out.
Already stretched to the limits, pathology providers have made it clear. No incentive, combined with frozen Medicare rebates means something has to change. Sussan Ley’s pathology cuts are the final straw.
So what does this mean for Australians?
With no incentive to bulk bill, pathology providers will simply charge up front for services. The patient will have to pay the full cost of tests, scans and x-rays at the time of consult, then seek reimbursement from Medicare.
There may be a gap: out-of-pocket expenses, and potentially every time, for every test.
If a person can’t afford the upfront costs for pathology services, they will simply miss out.
And people will die.
Cancers will go undetected until it is too late.
Serious illness and disease will go untreated.
Doctors will not be able to properly diagnose patients.
Chronic illnesses will not be properly managed, leading to further complications and onset of disease.
Preventable sickness will become the norm.
Sexually transmitted disease will flourish.
Pregnant women may forego routine testing putting the health of themselves and their unborn child in danger.
Hospital admissions may increase as people wait longer before seeking treatment.
The general health standards of low income, vulnerable and disadvantaged Australians may decrease, putting further pressure on already struggling hospitals, health and support services.
Men, women, children and babies will unnecessarily die.
And for what?
To save Sussan Ley a paltry $650 million over four years. $162.5 million a year.
The government has spoken.
It has put a price on a human life.
And that price is a measly $1-3 per test.
In 2014-15, 98.7% of out-patient pathology services were bulk billed.
There is absolutely no doubt at all, that after 1 July 2016 that percentage will decrease.
That percentage represents real people. Real people receiving 112.8 million pathology services a year (based on 98.7% of the 114.3 million out-patient pathology services provided in 2014-15).
That percentage represents mothers, fathers, daughters, sons, grandmothers, grandfathers, uncles or aunts who may have to decide whether to pay the rent, put food on the table, or be tested for Cancer.
For every 1% drop in the bulk billing rate, that is 1.143 million Australians forced to put a price on their health.
That’s $30 out of pocket for each of the 2 million routine pap smears estimated to be conducted a year (a crucial tool to test for early signs of cervical cancer in women).
That’s upfront payments of $93 for an x-ray, $396 for a CAT scan, a minimum of $85 for a mammogram, up to $186 for an ultrasound and up to $1,000 for a PET scan (according to the Australia Diagnostic Imaging Association).
Those stricken with Cancer may face initial upfront costs of around $1,500 and out-of-pocket expenses of up to $400 after receiving Medicare rebates. Over two years the costs could escalate to over $3,000, with out-of-pocket expenses of up to $725.
The 1.7 million Australians with diabetes may now face up to $400 a year in upfront costs just for basic urine and blood tests.
Cancer doesn’t wait for payday.
Cancer doesn’t care if you lose your capacity to pay because you’re too ill to work or your insurances have run out or your private health cover don’t include pathology services.
Cancer doesn’t care for vain attempts to win the lottery.
Cancer doesn’t care that bills need to be paid.
Savagely, fiercely, stealthily it comes, and it stops for no one.
Yet one simple thing has the chance to stop Cancer.
And Sussan Ley has her heel planted firmly on Early Detection’s throat. As each day draws closer to 1st July 2016, she grinds her heel a little harder.
It won’t be long before Sussan Ley kills Early Detection, with any hope or chance for millions of Australians suffocated by the weight of Financial Hardship.
Sussan Ley is Cancer’s best friend. Which makes her the enemy of every Australian.
Unrelenting, emotionless and insidious, Sussan Ley’s refusal to acknowledge the devastating consequences of her policy, has much in common with Cancer.
When sickness, illness and disease hit home, lives are destroyed. People lose jobs and homes. The pressure it puts on families; physically, emotionally, psychologically and financially, is enormous.
When Cancer, or any other illness strikes; serious, chronic, terminal or otherwise, it is never just one test needed. Weeks, months, sometimes years or a lifetime of diagnostic treatment is required.
For millions of families, Sussan Ley’s cuts may well be a death sentence.
For millions of others, Sussan Ley’s cuts will be the final twist of the knife.
The Government’s wilful blindness to the ramifications of de-incentivising bulk-billing is staggering.
Yet it is not surprising.
It is election year. Sussan Ley’s cuts will come in before Australians have the chance to vote, but before the full force of the consequences are felt.
It is deplorable that the availability and affordability of diagnostic tools, which are crucial to properly manage the health of Australians of every age, are being played against the interests of massive corporations and businesses.
Bulk-billing should not be used as a tool to threaten the Australian public – all pathology services should and must be bulk billed. If the Government wants to make savings, it must find another way.
There is still time to make a stand. All the advances in technology, medicine and science will be futile if Australians avoid critical diagnostic testing. The best doctors in the world cannot save a life once the point of no return is passed.
Australians are not yet at that point. There is still time to tell Cancer to shove its viciousness, vileness and foulness somewhere dark and gloomy where it cannot take hold and destroy lives.
There is still time to make it clear to Cancer’s best friend, that Australians will not tolerate having their lives held to ransom by anyone, or anything, including an evil, callous, heartless pathogen.
Let’s bury Cancer, not Australians.