Radiologists fear patients will soon be forced to pay more for scans used to diagnose some of the most common forms of cancer if an impasse over the Medicare rebate freeze is not resolved.
Accusing the Turnbull government of breaking a promise to thaw the rebate freeze, radiologists are launching a potentially bruising campaign in surgeries across the country.
In its May budget, the Turnbull government pledged to lift the freeze on targeted radiology and diagnostic imaging services in 2020.
But the freeze will only be lifted on 7 per cent (59 of 891) of radiology items listed on the Medicare Benefits Schedule, which the sector argues does not come close to what’s needed to detect and treat cancer.
Mammograms and a number of CT scans will be indexed under the plan but X-rays, MRIs, PETs and ultrasounds for breast, lung, ovarian and testicular cancer will not.
The Australian Diagnostic Imaging Association estimates 300,000 people forego treatment every year because it is too expensive and fear this figure will only worsen if patients and practices continue getting squeezed.
ADIA president Dr Christian Wriedt said his normally conservative colleagues were extremely frustrated over what to do.
“The only way we think our case will be taken seriously is if we have a long-term political campaign,” Dr Wreidt told AAP on Tuesday.
They have launched a campaign dubbed “Medicare is sick” – reminiscent of Labor’s so-called Mediscare campaign at the last election – which will target marginal seats right through to when voters next go to the polls.
“We think it will strike a chord,” Dr Wreidt said, acknowledging it will likely also raise the ire of Health Minister Greg Hunt.
“We have tried pretty much every other way and this will be one of the first times – the first time – that we’ve actually made a concerted campaign. We are really at our wits end to know what to do,” he said.
The health minister has been contacted for comment.