The health issue Medicare ignores

Have you had a run-in with cancer? Had surgery? Radiotherapy? Chemotherapy?

Then you may have developed lymphoedema. You may have required lymphatic drainage, massage, special support garments. And you may have been totally out of pocket for all such expenses – even though treatment to manage the condition or prevent it getting any worse would be less of a drain on the public purse.

Lymphatic drainage or massage is somewhere between helpful and effective but it doesn’t come cheap – $100-plus for a session in my experience. Similarly, custom-fitted garments are terrific, but costly – even those you buy online.

Having spent $500 on three visits and garments in the past month, today’s Lymphoedema Awareness Day mission has caught my attention. The Australian Physiotherapy Association (APA) and the Australasian Lymphology Association (ALA) are calling on the Government to permit Medicare rebates for treatment.

I’d also like my health fund to offer the same support.

National chair of APA Cancer, Lymphoedema and Palliative Care Elise Gane says the illness – a common side-effect of cancer surgery, radiation therapy and chemotherapy – is not widely understood.

“When lymph nodes are removed or damaged, fluid build-up and painful swelling often occurs in the limbs, breast, neck or genital regions,” she says.

“Physios who treat lymphoedema patients have good success in helping them relieve discomfort and get better joint movement in the affected area. In particular, lymphoedema-trained physios are expert at managing patients’ lymphatic drainage, applying compression bandaging and organising appropriate compression garments to relive their often considerable discomfort.

“This allows patients to be more physically active and engaged in their work and social roles, which has an immeasurably positive effect on their outlook.”

But … lymphoedema therapy does not have its own Medicare number, so for some, treatment is not affordable and an active lifestyle – and well-being – are compromised.

Out-of-pocket expenses for women suffering from lymphoedema due to breast cancer treatment averages $977 a year, according to the APA.

ALA president Leonie Naumann says: “One in every 6000 people live with primary lymphoedema and approximately 20 per cent of all cancer survivors develop secondary lymphoedema. There is currently no cure for lymphoedema but it can be managed by a qualified lymphoedema therapist.”

Do you suffer from lymphoedema? What treatment do you find effective?

Written by Janelle Ward

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