Shirley Pitts is finding it hard to make ends meet as a pensioner with health issues. Photo: Craig Warhurst/News mail
Shirley Pitts is finding it hard to make ends meet as a pensioner with health issues. Photo: Craig Warhurst/News mail Craig Warhurst

Pensioner hit with $400 bill for essential MRI test

A BUNDABERG pensioner is pleading for the Federal Government to reverse its decision to change Medicare MRI bulk billing after she was hit with a $400 bill.

Shirley Pitts, 73, suffers from many ailments including chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and multiple sclerosis, among others.

Mrs Pitts said when she went to St Andrews Hospital in Brisbane recently for an MRI, she was caught off guard when she was asked to pay.

"There was a sign there saying 'pensioners bulk billed'," she said.

"I was offered a quote of $300.

"I received a bill again last week asking to pay an extra $118."

Mrs Pitts said she was left "absolutely devastated" as she was not expecting changes to happen until July 2.

She said changes to pathology bulk billing would mean more of her "meagre" pension would be spent on medical bills.

"I have MS and I need the tests done," she said.

Mrs Pitts said while she was happy to fork out the extra $200 for the operation, she felt the removal of pathology bulk billing incentives would be tough on households.

"I have contributed taxes all my life and worked hard and now I'm being left like a shag on a rock," she said.

"I'm doing as much as possible but for goodness sake, open your heart to us."

Having suffered MS since she was 17, Mrs Pitts said a horrible side effect of MS was the spasms she has to endure. which left her homebound.

"The operation is to sew everything together so my insides won't move. she said

"Then I can lead a fairly normal life, so it's worth it."

The Federal Government argues that scrapping bulk billing incentives for pathologists would save $650 million over four years.

Pathology Australia warns the changes will leave patients facing higher out-of-pocket costs, or patients deferring or declining essential tests.

Member for Hinkler Keith Pitt reiterated the Federal Government had made no changes to Medicare rebates for pathology services, including common blood tests and pap smears.

"The changes announced in the Mid Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook (MYEFO) relate to an inefficient payment - worth between $1.40 and $3.40 - that is paid direct to pathology corporations and is entirely separate to the Medicare rebate.

"This bulk billing incentive payment was introduced in 2009 at a cost of $500 million over five years.  However, the bulk billing rates for pathology are at similar levels now as they were prior to the introduction of the incentive payment.

"But for patients, there is no change to the Medicare rebates for diagnostic imaging or pathology services.

"It is only a separate payment paid to diagnostic imaging and pathology providers that is changing for general patients.

"A recent report produced by the Grattan Institute confirms there are no justifiable grounds for large pathology corporations to introduce a $30 co-payment for blood, urine and pap smear tests based on the loss of a small inefficient payment worth just $1.40 to $3.40."