MBS funding arrives for blood cancer gene panels

Blood cancers

By Geir O'Rourke

17 Nov 2023

Patients with suspected myeloid and lymphoid blood cancers can now access gene panel testing under Medicare, following the latest update to the MBS.

The announcement has been labelled a landmark move by The Leukaemia Foundation, which says genomic testing has been financially out of reach for many blood cancer patients until now.

The new MBS items 73445, 73446, 73447 and 73448 are being introduced for gene panel testing for haematological malignancies, and items 71202 and 73310 will be available for the detection of measurable residual disease (MRD) in patients with acute lymphoblastic leukaemia, using flow cytometry and next-generation sequencing methods.

Out-of-hospital (85%) rebates for the former range from $829 to $1001, covering testing in a panel of at least 25 genes using DNA and RNA to determine diagnosis, prognosis or management.

Funding is available once per diagnostic episode at diagnosis, disease progression or relapse.

Item 71202 covers MRD testing by flow cytometry, performed on bone marrow from a patient diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukaemia, for the purpose of determining baseline MRD, or facilitating the determination of MRD following combination chemotherapy or after salvage therapy.

The final item, 73310, covers MRD testing by next-generation sequencing and has a higher rebate of $1451.

Leukaemia Foundation CEO Chris Tanti welcomed the new items, which he said would improve equality of access to genomic testing around the country.

“Sadly, previously many genomic diagnostics with regulatory approval were not publicly subsidised and therefore financially out of reach for many blood cancer patients in this country,” he said.

“These new MBS items will allow more Australians to have a timely and accurate blood cancer diagnosis and will additionally have a major impact on the expenses people have to pay, hopefully decreasing their out-of-pocket costs.”

He pointed to the foundation’s National Strategic Action Plan for Blood Cancers and State of the Nation 2023 reports, which call for genomics to be made a standard of care for treating blood cancers.

Up until now, access to genomic diagnostics in Australia had been inequitable, usage has been inconsistent across the population, and ultimately few patients have undergone genomic testing, he said.

“Our recent State of the Nation 2023 report contains new data showing a significant 31% of blood cancer patients who had a genomic test had their diagnosis and treatment plan altered,” he said.

“This is a critical outcome because an accurate blood cancer diagnosis ensures a better and more targeted treatment plan, leading to better patient outcomes and a greater chance of the patient surviving their blood cancer.”

Mr Tanti added: “The Leukaemia Foundation continues to work with the Government on supporting access to genomic testing for blood cancer patients in Australia no matter where they live or where they receive their treatment.

“This includes the Genomics Framework being pursued following the recent release of the Australian Cancer Plan.”

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