SOUTH-WEST residents have won a long campaign to get Medicare eligibility for vital scans on Warrnambool’s Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) machine.
The Federal Government’s approval means patients will pay no more than $100 for tests which previously cost up to $400 on the $1.5 million machine which was installed at South West Healthcare’s Warrnambool base hospital two years ago.
Patients had the choice of either paying the whole fee for tests in Warrnambool or travelling to Ballarat or Geelong for Medicare-funded services.
Pleas for the Medicare licence started almost three years ago with a widely-circulated petition and case studies of south-west patients which were collated and presented to Canberra by Wannon MP Dan Tehan who made the issue a key election campaign promise.
Federal Health Minister Tanya Plibersek announced the breakthrough this week, saying the licence would be effective from November 1 along with 29 other fully-eligible licences for regional Australia plus partial eligibility for 161 MRI units in metropolitan centres.
The approvals also include increased eligibility for children under the age of 16 to help avoid unnecessary radiation from other types of diagnostic machines.
“The Gillard Government is delivering a $104.4m Australia-wide expansion of Medicare-eligible MRI services to make it easier for patients to get affordable scans closer to home,” she said.
Mr Tehan and South West Healthcare chief executive John Krygger said it was a huge boost for community accessibility of hospital services.
"It means for the general public the most they will be out of pocket for a specialist-referred MRI test will be $100, while pensioners and health cardholders will get it for free through bulk billing," Mr Krygger said yesterday. "As demand increases it is expected that operating hours and days will be extended."
Mr Tehan described the news as fantastic. "It is a big tick for local community campaigners," he said.
"People demonstrated a real need and the federal government listened.
"It will mean a huge difference for people who have had to travel long distance for subsidised MRIs.
"The next step now is to get an integrated cancer-care centre in Warrnambool.
"I’d like to see a federal contribution similar to what it has done for other regional centres."
Warrnambool’s MRI machine is owned and operated by Healthcare Imaging Services which also operates the computer tomography (CT) imaging machine.
MRI scans are used for brain, musculoskeletal joints, spinal, cancer and osteoporosis scans.
Radiographer Paul Wilson said a significant increase in patients using the MRI machine was expected following the Medicare approval.