Labor to reduce cancer treatment costs
Federal Labor pledges $2.3 billion to expand Medicare coverage of scans and consultations – with more drugs to go on the PBS.
Labor will greatly expand Medicare to cover out-of-pocket costs for existing and future cancer patients.
Opposition leader Bill Shorten promised a Labor government would fund up to six million free medical scans and three million specialist consultations, costing $2.3 billion over four years.
The plan will be paid for by cancelling the Coalition government’s planned tax cuts for high income earners.
Labor’s plan includes:
- $600 million for free X-rays, ultrasounds, mammograms, CT scans and MRI scans
- $433 million for free consultations with oncologists and surgeons, turning these services into bulk-billed Medicare items so patients would no longer have to cover up to 40 per cent of the cost under current rules
- a “guarantee” that every cancer medicine recommended by independent experts will be subsidised by the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme.
Federal Secretary of the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation, Annie Butler, welcomed Labor’s plan as “a great first step in bringing fairness back to the system”.
She said out-of-pocket costs for consumers were well above the OECD average and prevented equal access to the health care system.
Cancer makes you sick Treatment makes you poor
In announcing the Medicare and PBS expansion, Mr Shorten told Parliament: “If someone you love has cancer, you’d sell the roof over your head if it would help”.
“You’d sell the shirt off your back, but you shouldn’t have to.
“You pay your taxes to Canberra. You pay your Medicare levy. If I am elected prime minister, I’m going to make sure the health care system is there for you when you need it most.”
Mr Shorten said he had seen the impact of breast cancer on his late mother, Ann.
“Cancer is frightening, it’s isolating, it’s exhausting,” he said, adding that he and his wife, Chloe, had seen “dear friends” suffer from the disease.
“For so many people, cancer makes you sick and then paying for the treatment makes you poor,” he said.
“And that’s a fact that I think a lot of Australians would be surprised to learn.”
Breast Cancer Network Australia (BCNA) CEO Kirsten Pilatti said Labor’s plan would reduce the significant out-of-pocket costs faced by breast cancer patients.
“We are pleased to see that the Opposition has listened to the stories of people with a personal experience of breast cancer and put a plan in place to reduce the financial toxicity that can have a huge impact on women, men and their families,” she said.
“We have heard countless stories from women and men who have faced thousands of dollars in out-of-pocket costs after being diagnosed with breast cancer,” she said.
Cancer’s crippling financial cost
Opposition leader Bill Shorten made the following points to highlight the financial burden cancer can impose:
- One in four women with breast cancer pay more than $10,000 for two years of scans and tests
- Some men with prostate cancer pay more than $18,000
- Most people with skin cancer pay more than $5,000 for the first two years of treatment
- Each year, 300,000 people miss out on needed radiology because they cannot afford it
- Only half of all MRI machines are covered by Medicare, and regional patients often have to drive for hours or pay thousands of dollars to use one.
“If we win the election, not only will we provide more MRI machines to communities where they are needed most, but Labor will guarantee that every single MRI machine in Australia that meets a national quality standard is covered by Medicare for cancer scans,” Mr Shorten said.