Funding for 30 additional Medicare-subsidised MRI machines is a “political stunt” that does not address the lack of publicly-funded diagnostic imaging services, according to the peak body for private radiology practices.
The federal government has announced it will spend $175 million to fund MRI machines with full licenses – meaning they can provide all 95 MRI MBS items – at 30 sites with “critical patient need”.
Ten sites have already been announced, with the remainder to be allocated after hospitals bid through a competitive public application process.
But the the Australian Diagnostic Imaging Association (ADIA) says the move will not go nearly far enough to address MRI access problems, and the announcement adds insult to injury after its reneging on a promise to lift the 20-year Medicare rebate freeze on radiology items.
The association has likened promises by the Coalition and Labor to dole out MRI machines to electorates to an “arms race”.
The ADIA says that while MRI is the ‘gold standard’ in radiology it is often the most expensive, with out of pocket costs running into hundreds of dollars and many patients missing out on scans and potentially on earlier diagnosis of conditions such as cancer.
ADIA’s Senior Policy Adviser Chris Kane said: “There are already 174 MRI machines with ‘partial licences’ that can only do 15 of the 95 MRI services available on Medicare. That is the scale of the problem – 30 new full licences is not going to touch the sides.”
To genuinely address the problem, the government needs to convert all of them to full licenses and make good on its promise to lift the rebate freeze, the ADIA argues.
“ABS statistics show there are 300,000 Australians who are forgoing treatment every year because of cost – the average gap is $100. So, if Australians can’t afford access to services like x-rays, CTs and ultrasounds, announcements around more MRI licences won’t change the gaps they pay and will do nothing to reduce their hip-pocket pain,” said Mr Kane.
He also questioned whether the selection of the 30 sites was based on political motives rather than clinical need.
“These are the locations chosen by the Government and Opposition, but we have no insight into why these locations were chosen.”
“Under a transparent process the sector would know the criteria used to select locations, and when the decision is made we would know why each location was chosen.”
The ADIA also drew attention to the impending restriction on GP-ordered MRI imaging of the knee for patients over 50, which takes effect from 1 November 2018. The decision was not based on scientific evidence (but on ‘expert opinion’) and would mean patients having to seek specialist referral for MRI, resulting in delays and extra costs, it said.
Labor had promised 20 extra MRI licences if elected.
The ADIA has put together a list of the major parties’ promises on MRI.
|Coalition (from 1 November)||Labor (if elected)|
|1. Mount Druitt Hospital, NSW
2. Northern Beaches Hospital, NSW
3. Pindara Private Hospital, Gold Coast, QLD
4. Toowoomba Hospital, QLD
5. Sale Hospital, VIC
6. Monash Children’s Hospital, Clayton VIC
7. St John of God Midland Public and Private Hospital, WA
8. Kalgoorlie Health Campus, WA
9. Royal Darwin Hospital, NT
10. Mount Barker, SA
|1. Mt Druitt Hospital (NSW)
2. Blue Mountains Hospital Katoomba (NSW)
3. Batemans Bay District Hospital (NSW)
4. Redcliffe Hospital (Qld)
5. Gladstone Hospital (Qld)
6. Monash Children’s Hospital (Victoria)
7. Kalgoorlie Health Campus (WA
8. Midland Hospital (WA)
9. Mt Barker District Soldiers’ Memorial Hospital (SA)