Call to reinstate full Medicare rebate for ECGs

Medical experts are calling on the federal government to reinstate the Medicare rebate for electrocardiograms (ECGs) in full, arguing cuts made in 2020 are severely impacting many people’s access to the potentially lifesaving test.

If the government is serious about improving the nation’s heart health, it needs to reinstate subsidies for full ECG services immediately, says the Australian Medical Association (AMA), the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) and the Heart Foundation.

What’s the problem?

Back in August 2020, the previous government made the decision to remove Medicare Benefits Schedule (MBS) item number 11700, which paid $27.15 for an ECG ‘trace and report’ service to be performed in a clinic.

The ‘report’ part of the service was removed, and the ECG ‘trace’ benefit was reduced to $16.15 under MBS item number 11707.

This might sound like a fairly minor change, but it means Medicare will only reimburse you for the physical ECG test being performed and not for a doctor to interpret the results, when before both were covered under the one MBS item.

Patients then have to pay out of pocket for a cardiologist to make a diagnosis based on the results, rather than just having their GP interpret the results, which they are trained to do.

What needs to happen?

Both the AMA and RACGP say the changes have caused many people to forgo potentially lifesaving testing, an outcome both organisations warned of when the changes were introduced.

“For the past three-and-a-half years, the AMA has been pushing for this ill-conceived decision to be overturned,” says AMA president Professor Steve Robson.

“When a GP feels an abnormal pulse, they should be empowered to conduct an urgent ECG, as these tests can easily detect conditions such as atrial fibrillation.

“But without adequate Medicare rebates, these tests become more challenging to do and this leads to an entirely unnecessary delay to managing a patient’s care – all because of a decision made several years ago that still makes no sense to us.”

Associate Professor Michael Clements, vice-president of the RACGP, says the changes have led to a measurable drop in the number of ECG services being performed overall, and therefore heart conditions are going undiagnosed.

“We are calling for funding to be returned without delay because it’s impacting patients’ access to affordable care, timely diagnosis and management of heart conditions,” he said. 

“When GPs lost this subsidy for patient care, it resulted in a 33 per cent reduction in ECG services from GPs and other medical professionals. This may save the government’s bottom line, but it’s risking the health of our community.

“We know the need for ECGs is increasing due to our demographics – an ageing population and increasing rates of chronic illness.”

When was the last time you had an ECG? Do you think both parts of the ECG service should be covered? Let us know in the comments section below.

Also read: Short-term exercise can lead to long-term heart improvements

Disclaimer: This article contains general information about health issues and is not advice. For health advice, consult your medical practitioner.

Brad Lockyer
Brad Lockyer
Brad has deep knowledge of retirement income, including Age Pension and other government entitlements, as well as health, money and lifestyle issues facing older Australians. Keen interests in current affairs, politics, sport and entertainment. Digital media professional with more than 10 years experience in the industry.


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