The Guardian January 26, 2000


Shifting the cost onto women

by Mati English

Ultrasound techniques have been used in medicine for some time now. The 
technique is widely used in obstetrics to determine such serious conditions 
as Down syndrome, spina bifida and brain abnormalities in the first 
trimester of pregnancy.

The Federal Government has announced plans to restrict access to the 
Medicare rebate for ultrasound for pregnant women. The changes would 
restrict women from being paid the rebate unless they had one of the 30 
health problems listed in the new regulations.

This proposal has already been criticised by doctors, women's groups and 
the Labor Opposition.

"There is a lot to fix in the area of obstetrics, but a short sharp cut to 
funding that will shift the cost from the Government to women or mean less 
access to early monitoring when it is needed is not the answer", the 
Women's Electoral Lobby said.

Labor Senator Rosemary Crowley recently chaired a Senate inquiry into 
childbirth. In her view the Government plan would discourage poorer women 
from accessing the testing.

"The need for this screening should not be confused with the growing 
tendency for some women to have multiple ultrasound scans and to want 
photos and videos of their baby", she said.

The frivolous misuse of what is essentially a medical procedure should not 
provide the Government with an excuse to deprive the majority of women from 
a test which might very well be critical for a decision to proceed or not 
to proceed with a pregnancy.

This raises the question of whether the anti-abortionists have had some 
influence over the choice of fund cutting.

Mrs Bronwyn Bishop, the Acting Minister for Health denied that any money 
the Government saved by cutting back the ultrasound rebate would be used to 
offset the blow-out in refunds for brain scan magnetic resonance imaging 
machines (MRI scans).

In what is one of the largest medical frauds, up to 250 people face 
criminal or civil action  33 MRI scanning machines had been ordered in 
the week before a secret Budget deadline.

Machines ordered before Budget night were to be eligible for Medicare 
benefits, believed to be worth $500,000 to $1 million a year to 
radiologists.

The fact that a quarter of Australia's 1,100 radiologists were involved in 
what is now known as the "scan scam" does not inspire a lot of confidence 
in either the Minister for Health and the Government or the radiologists 
involved. And pregnant women should not be expected to pay for it.

What we are seeing more and more of is a shift into a user-pays system of 
medical profiteering  promoted and actively encouraged by the Government.

Putting another financial burden on pregnant women in this latest funding 
cut is an absolute disgrace and should not go ahead.

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