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Rebate Increase Should be the Next Step in Fight Against Breast Cancer, Says ASBP

by Luke Molnar

The Australasian Society of Breast Physicians (ASBP) is urging the Federal Government to increase Medicare rebates to women for diagnostic breast ultrasound and mammography (tests for the investigation of breast abnormalities), saying this is a key area being neglected in the fight against breast cancer.

ASBP President Dr Susan Fraser said out-of-pocket costs to women who have a lump or other breast abnormality that requires further detailed investigation by clinical breast examination, ultrasound, mammography and biopsy can range between $200 and $600.

“Public hospital waiting lists for these tests can be very long, so there is a funding shortfall right there,” Dr Fraser said.

“In order to access the tests quickly women are often referred to private breast clinics. These clinics have specialised staff and equipment and operating costs but receive little or no support from Government. Being under this pressure makes it difficult to keep a tight lid on consultation fees,” she explained.

“Breast clinics offer women holistic breast diagnostic services in a multi-disciplinary environment which is the gold standard and advocated by the National Breast and Ovarian Cancer Centre (NBOCC).

“They want to deliver gold standard care by having the most advanced and effective medical imaging equipment, as well as dedicated and well-trained staff but it comes at huge cost,” she said.

“The result is that either patients face a big gap between their Medicare rebate and the diagnostic consultation fee or the clinic tries desperately to keep patient costs down and eventually closes simply because it can’t meet running costs.

“I know a large number of breast clinics are running at no profit – some at a loss – because they do not want to disadvantage patients by charging higher fees,” Dr Fraser said.

According to the ASBP, the Medicare rebate for breast imaging services has only increased marginally in the past decade.

“That’s pretty appalling given the life-saving value of these investigations,” Dr Fraser said.

“The provision of free mammograms for women in the high-risk age bracket for breast cancer and injections of significant resources into breast cancer research are definitely initiatives to applaud,” she said.

“However, seeing this critical element of breast cancer detection being neglected is terribly disappointing.”

“It would be wonderful to see the Federal Government make a progressive move in the form of increasing the Medicare rebate to women for these life saving services,” she said.

CONTACT: Dr Susan Fraser on 0409 494 353 or ASBP Media Consultant Sarah Todman on 0425 883 304