Monday, 22 May 2017

The Turnbull Government has been offering half-truths to voters once gain

In its 2017-18 Budget the Turnbull Government announced it would commence the phased re-introduction of Medicare Benefits Schedule rebates indexation.

Treasurer and Liberal MP for Cook Scott Morrison stated in his Budget Night speech that “We are lifting the freeze on the indexation of the Medicare Benefits Schedule. We are also reversing the removal of the bulk-billing incentive for diagnostic imaging and pathology services and the increase in the PBS co-payment and related changes.”

It now appears that it was premature to expect that out-of-pocket expenses for a number of radiology and diagnostic imaging services might be contained after the rebate freeze was lifted for these services in three years time.

The Medicare rebate thaw will not apply to 93 per cent of scans, including the X-rays, MRIs and ultrasounds used to diagnose some of the most common forms of cancer.

Health Minister Greg Hunt's staged four-year thaw has been widely welcomed by doctors' groups such as the Australian Medical Association and the Royal Australian College of GPs. Under the plan, indexation will gradually be reapplied to bulk-billing incentives, visits to the doctor and allied health services.

On budget night, the Turnbull government said the final stage of the thaw, due in July 2020, would lift the freeze on "targeted" radiology and diagnostic imaging services - the first indexation since 2004.

Prime Minister Turnbull puts pressure on the Senate to back the increase to the Medicare levy after the release of two new opinion polls. Vision courtesy Seven News Melbourne.

But new Department of Health figures reveal precisely how "targeted" the changes will be: the freeze will be lifted on 59 of the 891 radiology items listed on the Medicare Benefits Schedule - just 7 per cent.

While mammograms and a number of CT scans will be indexed under the plan, X-rays, MRIs, PETs and ultrasounds for such common conditions as brain, lung, breast and ovarian cancer will not. The rebate on common scans for arthritis and nuclear medicine will also remain frozen. [my yellow highlighting]

As for the promised reversing of the increase in the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS), this is only the potential for a flow-on effect from other changes in the PBS and is in no way guaranteed to occur.

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