SOUTH-WEST patients using Warrnambool’s medical imaging service will have to wait five months before the facility is subsidised, with more than $740,000 in costs racked up since it was installed.
An estimated 2600 appointments have been made by patients to use the Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) service since it was installed at Warrnambool Base Hospital last year, following a concerted public campaign.
Based on the average cost of an MRI scan per region, more than $14,200 worth of scans have been booked at the Warrnambool site each week since the facility was opened for business in August 2010.
While MRI scans are partially subsidised by the operators, south-west patients have to wear near full-cost prices until the federal government allows the site to be Medicare funded.
It is understood that patients on tight budgets still have to travel to Geelong or Ballarat to be scanned at sites which are government subsidised.
Australian Diagnostic Imaging Association (ADIA) president Sue Ulreich said the Medicare allocation for Warrnambool’s MRI was an important step towards overcoming more than a decade of under-funding.
“The government has recognised that Medicare funding has not kept pace with advances in medical imaging and that access to MRI services in Australia is at one of the lowest levels in the developed world,” Dr Ulreich said.
“However, this is just the tip of the iceberg.
“Too many imaging procedures including MRI remain seriously under-funded and others are not covered by Medicare, leaving them out of reach for many Australians.”
Dr Ulreich said Medicare rebates for medical imaging services had not been indexed by the federal government since 1998, in contrast to most other specialist services covered by Medicare which were indexed annually.
She said this ran counter to the trend of rising medical and staff costs.
Federal Health Minister Tanya Plibersek is expected to officially open the Warrnambool MRI when its Medicare licence is granted in November.