Pathology Australia To Lobby Government Over Pap Smear Fees, Rallies Scheduled For February

10/01/2016 11:16 AM AEDT | Updated 15/07/2016 12:51 PM AEST
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Doctor obtaining a cervical smear. He is inserting a spatula into the woman's vagina to scrape a specimen of cellular material from the neck (cervix) of the uterus. The extracted specimen of cells is then smeared onto a slide and examined in a laboratory. This procedure is also known as a pap test. Cells that appear abnormal may indicate developing cervical disease or cancer.

The peak body for Australia's pathologists is taking its fight to Canberra over proposed federal government budget cuts that could see pap smears cost up to $30.

Pathologists have warned that women are likely to have to pay upfront costs for the cervical cancer screening test due to the government's removal of bulk-billing incentive payments to pathology services flagged in December.

The proposed scrapping of the payments was outlined in the Government’s Mid Year Economic Fiscal Outlook and relates to pap smears as well as other services like MRIs, blood tests and X rays.

The controversial payments to pathology companies, worth between $1.40 and $3.40, took effect in 2009 and were aimed at boosting bulk billing. But the government says bulk billing rates have only lifted 1 percent since they came in and so should be removed.

But the pathology industry says administrative costs involved in the proposed change will result in patients paying more for pap smears and could go even higher than $30 per test.

On Sunday, Pathology Australia president Nick Musgrave said the organisation would lobby the government vigorously to reverse the proposal.

"We are in the process of doing that," Musgrave told ABC television .

"We will be continuing to lobby strongly to have this decision reversed and we (are) encouraged by the support we have received."

He said rallies would be held in February against the changes, which are slated to take effect from July and must still get the tick of approval from the Senate.

The Turnbull government has repeatedly disputed claims that fees charged to patients will rise due to the changes. It says the payments to be dumped go to pathology companies, and are separate to the Medicare rebate.

After negative publicity flowing from a petition on the issue, Health Minister Sussan Ley this week said nothing would change on the access or cost of pap smears.

An in-depth explainer on the issue can be found here.

Pathology Australia's Musgrave predicted worse health outcomes if the altered payment arrangements went ahead.

"These will result in delay and diagnosis of cancers and chronic diseases, lead to worse health outcomes and at the end of the day they will cost more money to manage the complex conditions," he said.

He rejected suggestions that the group's opposition to the government's proposal was an attempt to protect shareholder interests.

Labor has pledged to block the changes in the Senate.

Independent senator Jacqui Lambie has also expressed her opposition to the reforms.

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