Wagga’s medical professionals are outraged their patients may now be forced to pay for vital medical tests that play a key role in the early detection of cancer and serious heart, liver and kidney diseases.
As part of its mid-year budget update on Tuesday, the federal government announced $650 million cuts to to bulk billing incentives for pathology and imaging services on July 1.
This means patients could be forced to pay up to $30 for tests, including pap smears, blood tests and urine samples, which are crucial for the early detection of serious illnesses, including cervical cancer and diabetes.
According to Murrumbidgee Primary Health Network chairman Max Graffen, anything that could dissuade patients from getting tested for serious illnesses could be very dangerous.
“If pathologists start charging for their services, it will be a significant disincentive for people to go and have tests,” he said.
"If patients can't access tests as readily as they can at the moment, then I think it could be quite dangerous if early detection is missed as a result.
"And anybody that doesn't have a lot of money will most likely be impacted by this, as they could struggle to pay.”
According to the member for the Riverina Michael McCormack, the belief people would be less inclined to get tested due to the new cost was unfounded.
"I don't think women will be put in the place where they have to chose between feeding their kids or having a pap smear, I don't buy into that argument,” he said. “If someone honestly believes something’s wrong, they’ll get tested.”
"Patients with high out-of-pocket medical costs will continue to be covered by the Medicare safety-net protections and local doctors will play a responsible community role to ensure that those who can't afford these tests will be bulk billed."
Mr McCormack said pathologies and imaging groups providing these services were “corporate entities” sucking up valuable taxpayer money that would be better spent elsewhere.
“These providers include large businesses that are paid hundreds of millions of dollars a year by the government, and when I say government I mean the tax payer,” he said.
"We as a government want to better direct this money and we can’t keep propping up and supporting these sorts of corporate entities that are reaping the rewards of taxpayers dollars.”