Up to 24,000 Australian breast cancer patients per year will soon have access to affordable life-saving scans as both the Coalition and Labor vow to extend the Medicare rebate for imaging technology from November 1.
The Coalition announced on Friday a $32.6 million injection for two new Medicare items for MRI of the breast, which currently costs patients anywhere between $450 to $1500 per scan in gap fees.
“I want to ensure we support Australian[s] diagnosed with breast cancer by reducing out of pockets costs and ensure their diagnosis and treatment is supported by the most contemporary scans,” federal health minister Greg Hunt said on Friday.
Labor also pledged to subsidise breast cancer scans under Medicare, by investing an extra $47 million for the MRIs as part of its election promise.
“Medicare already subsidises similar MRI scans for men with prostate cancer – but not for women with breast cancer, except in extremely limited circumstances,” Labor leader Bill Shorten said.
Around one in five people with breast cancer, or 14,000 patients per year, will require an MRI to help with an accurate diagnosis when the cancer is not detectable by other scans, such as mammograms or ultrasounds.
Many patients are also recommended to have the scan as part of their treatment planning, particularly ahead of surgery.
The Coalition’s funding will also extend to PET scans for advanced breast cancer, which is expected to benefit approximately 10,000 Australian patients per year.
A PET, which can cost up to $1000, is a whole body scan that is used when the cancer has spread to other parts of the body making it difficult to diagnose. It can also help to monitor whether treatments are working.
Breast Cancer Network Australia (BCNA) said some women are forced to forgo the scans because they can’t afford it.
“Many people with metastatic disease will have PET scans over a number of years, and the costs for these can quickly add up to thousands of dollars,” BCNA CEO Kirsten Pilatti said.
Medicare subsidised breast scans were a key recommendation in BCNA’s 2018 State of the Nation report.
“These announcements are a major step forward for Australians with breast cancer. Providing Medicare rebates will enable more people to access these important scans and will help them and their treating teams to make evidence-based decisions about their treatment,” Ms Pilatti said.
“I would like to acknowledge the work of women around the country in the BCNA network, health professionals and past BCNA CEOs who have been calling for these changes to be made for a long time.”