“It’s never been a more exciting time to be an Australian” – Malcolm Turnbull.
And yet for Australia’s ageing population, cancer sufferers, and patients of chronic disease it appears it’s never been a more expensive time. The LNP in the last few days announced their budget cuts and aim has been taken at Medicare, aged care, and radiation oncology programs. Specifically the proposal for $650 million to be cut from Medicare which will mean bulk billing incentives slashed for diagnostic imaging and pathology. This article will focus on this particular aspect because it is one that has become increasingly important in my own life as well as my fellow endo sisters that I have connected with over the past few weeks. These kind of cuts are a blow to people with chronic illnesses including cancer. It seems that after enduring so much the government, a body with a duty to protect and care for its citizens, will be making it harder for us to live an already complicated life.
If you know anything about endometriosis, the second that diagnosis is delivered you know that you’ll be seeing the office you’re sitting in a lot. I remember thinking: I like these chairs, they’re comfy, that’s good because I’ll probably be back here again. I also remember the MRI my doctor sent me off for next, and the close to $350 pathology invoice I received a few days later. At the bottom of said invoice was the amount I would get back from Medicare, not all of it, but enough to make the amount I had to pay less significant. I got money back from Medicare on my surgeon and anaesthetist’s fees too which wasn’t a lot when compared with the total cost of the surgery, but it was helpful especially since I had no private health insurance. The thing about endometriosis is that not just any gynaecologist can pick up a scalpel and know what to do when they find it, or do what needs to be done without damaging the organs implicated. If you manage to find one of them in the public system it’s likely you’ll be waiting a while because the state of public health in this country is not something to be proud of. State governments like the Labor one in Queensland have been trying to fix that with initiatives like legislated nurse-patient ratios and policies to help clear surgical waiting lists. But many endo or “might be endo” girls have no choice but to go to private for the expertise or because they simply cannot wait. If they’re lucky they have private insurance, but not all of us do. So those little cash backs we get from Medicare are important. A lot of sufferers have tread a long road to get to the exploratory laparoscopy that will give them their diagnosis, a psychologically and financially draining road at that. When you finally get it your journey has just begun. The surgeon may have excised it, but endo can grow back and depending on the severity you could be in for a lot of time sitting in your specialist’s office. A part of making sure no one gets scalpel happy too soon is diagnostics and pathology. No Medicare benefits will only add more costs to our financial burden.
This comes after news earlier this year that certain over the counter medications may be set to become prescription only in an attempt to curb community addiction. The medications are the kind that endometriosis patients need just to get out of bed some days, not because they are addicted but because they are in pain. We already spend a good deal of our lives in doctor’s offices, adding more just to get pain medication seemed a dire prospect for many of us. We get knocked down so often by this disease, and despite getting up and trying to keep going things like this keep us falling. Being newly diagnosed I haven’t had to deal with as much yet, but the stories of my endo sisters are enough to make me expect the worst but hope for the best.
Now let’s talk about a more deadly consequence of these cuts. Patients who depend on diagnostics and pathology even more than endometriosis sufferers are cancer patients. In their case timely and accurate use of these services may literally be the difference between life and death. Delays in diagnosis cause delays in treatment and ultimately can mean progression to later stages of the disease which are harder or impossible to treat. If one truely wanted to save money and resources, one would realise that the cost of cancer treatment in the later stages which requires more staff, more medications, more resources, costs the public health system more. Therefore early detection, diagnosis and treatment would have economic benefits, not to mention lives saved. Once again the most vulnerable in society are footing the bill in the latest round of cuts.
It appears that no lessons have been learned from a leadership spill and fierce opposition to the last round of damaging cuts to health, education, and childcare. While Turnbull’s approval rating climbs, his policies reek of the same Abbott stench. These are not policies that are sustainable for people with chronic illness and isn’t it time someone who wasn’t vulnerable helped to “clean up the budget mess”? It’s time to stop playing the Labor blame game because more than two years in it’s your responsibility now and the situation has only gotten worse. We’ve suffered enough and so direct your poorly aimed wrecking ball somewhere else.
Well, it seems like I’ve been playing your game way too long
And it seems the game I’ve played has made you strong
But when the game is over I won’t walk out the loser
And I know that I’ll walk out of here again
And I know someday I’ll walk out of here again
– Trapped, Bruce Springsteen