Parties lashed on ‘MRIs for votes’

It’s being called an “arms race” and “window dressing”. The promises are flowing ahead of the next federal election, with extra MRI machines being promised by both the Coalition and the Labor Party.

The Coalition has announced it will deliver 30 Medicare-licensed MRI machines in key locations at a cost of $175 million if re-elected, and Labor has promised an extra 20 – also in key locations, if elected.

Neither party has released details of how and where it intends to award licences.

MRI or Magnetic Resonance Imaging devices are used to detect a range of conditions, including cancer and heart disease.

At present, there are 348 MRI machines available to the public, but a full Medicare rebate can be claimed for only 174 machines. The other 174 are partially licensed, which affects the capacity to bulk bill.

The Coalition has issued only five licences since 2013, and the Medicare rebate for MRI scans has not been increased in 20 years.

Australian Diagnostic Imaging Association president Siavash Es’haghi said in a statement that the funding announcements were “political window dressing” that did nothing to make the scans more affordable. He said that average out-of-pocket costs were $100 for radiology services.

“In Australia, we restrict access (to MRI diagnosis) and, at every election, we see the major parties exchange MRI licences for votes.

“Already there are 300,000 Australians foregoing treatment every year because of cost. We are creating a two-tiered health system between the haves and the have-nots – and that’s not what Medicare is supposed to be.

“So, if you can’t afford access to services like X-rays and ultrasounds, announcements around more MRI licences are going to do nothing to reduce your hip-pocket pain. This MRI arms race between Labor and the Coalition is just political window dressing.”

Dr Es’haghi said there should be a transparent process to ensure that all Australians can access MRI services, not just those in politically important electorates.

He also wants further increases in Medicare rebates to help patients access medical scans, arguing that rebates for scans were 20 years behind where they should be.

Healthcare continues to be a significant burden on older Australians, with the latest cost-of-living increases again driving home that point.

Australia Institute chief economist Matt Grudnoff told YourLifeChoices that medical and hospital services had risen 3.1 per cent in the June quarter, driven mainly by increases in the cost of private health insurance.

Health had the largest impact on Constrained Couples (homeowners on a full or part Age Pension), he said, but had also affected the Affluent tribes (privately funded homeowners).

“This is primarily because Constrained Couples spend the largest proportion of their income on health,” he said. “Cash-Strapped Couples (renters on an Age Pension) spend the smallest proportion of their income on health and so it impacted them the least.”

Are you sceptical about the announcements of extra MRI machines? Do you believe they will be located in the regions that need them the most?

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Written by Janelle Ward

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