The Government has announced that Medicare rebates for knee MRIs ordered by GPs for anyone over the age of 50 will cease from November 1 of this year.
This means the patient will be hit in the hip pocket for $500 per scan, or have to wait months to see a specialist, reported The Daily Telegraph.
The cost of knee MRIs to tax payers had increased dramatically according to a Medicare review conducted by the Government, more than doubling from $16 million to $38 million over five years. It found that knee MRIs had tripled in that time.
Lobby group National Seniors has called the coming change “ageist”.
“The idea of picking on people that are 50 does seem to be ageist to me,” Ian Henschke, National Seniors chief advocate told the publication.
“How fair is it that a 49-year-old can get a rebate but a 50-year-old can’t?”
Some prominent athletes have spoken out in agreement, saying that scrapping the rebate discriminates, and makes no sense at a time when older Australians are being encouraged to keep fit to stave off medical issues.
“Like millions of Australians I do everything I can to keep fit as I get older, so it makes me angry that the Government is penalising me because of my age,” said former basketball champion Rachel Sporn, a three-time Olympic medallist who is 50 years old.
“It seems completely contradictory that we’re constantly encouraging older Australians to stay healthy while, at the same time, we’re making access to critical healthcare harder and more expensive. It doesn’t make sense.”
Wayne Schwass, the former Sydney Swan and North Melbourne premiership player, will celebrate his 50th milestone in November and has called the changes “ridiculous” and “farcical”.
But those in regional areas could be hit the hardest, said Dr Siavash Eshaghi, president of the Australian Diagnostic Imaging Association, who has called the removal of the Medicare MRI rebate “like an ageing tax for over 50s”.
“It will be worse for people in regional areas who will be forced to wait in pain for an MRI until the next available appointment with the visiting specialist in their town or travel long distances at their own cost to get an appointment,” he said.
But Dr Harry Nespolon, president of the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners, says that GPs may actually be ordering too many MRIs, but banning them for the over-50s would mean that GPs wouldn’t be able to order the tests for some who may need it most, like those who have injuries from an accident or sport.
Furthermore, patients will be hit with two expensive visits to a specialist – for a referral and a review of their scan.
“The impact of the measure should be reviewed to see if there are groups in the community who are adversely affected by the decision,” Dr Nespolon said.
The Medicare MRI ban for over-50s will affect around 80,000 Australians a year.
Meanwhile over 9,400 Australians have signed a petition protesting the changes.
What do you think about this Medicare rebate change? Let us know in the comments section.