In an effort to head off attacks over the handling of healthcare funding, the Prime Minister used a leadership debate to claim that people would still be able to access bulk-billed pathology tests. In an apparent deal with private pathology lobby group, Pathology Australia, the cuts to bulk-billed pathology tests will be delayed for a couple of months, while the Government will provide financial relief to private pathology companies for the high rents they pay for collection centres.
The truth is the Prime Minister has not ensured that bulk-billing will continue for pathology tests. The only deal that has been done is the Government is giving private pathology providers guarantees to make rents for collection centres cheaper. Somehow the Prime Minister was attempting to claim that delaying the end of bulk-billed pathology tests as a victory for patients.
It’s disingenuous for the Turnbull Government to claim that making rents for collection centres cheaper will somehow ensure that patients won’t be charged up-front fees for pathology tests. Instead of announcing that the Government would reverse its decision to end bulk-billed pathology tests, the Turnbull Government is rewarding the bad business practices of private pathology companies.
The reason for exorbitant rents for collection centres is due to the predatory practices of private pathology providers. In an effort to reduce competition, private pathology providers like Sonic and Primary Health Care engaged in collection centre warfare by deliberately offering medical centres and doctor’s surgeries much more for rent than market rates. When private pathology providers are deliberately engaging in this kind of anti-competitive business practice, which massively inflated the rental market for collection centres, tax payers shouldn’t be forced to subsidise it. Instead of protecting patients from up-front fees for pathology tests, the Turnbull Government is protecting the interests of private pathology providers.
It should be of great concern to everyone that the details of the ‘deal’ have not been made public and there is no way as ordinary voters to be guaranteed that private pathology providers will do the right thing and not pass on the cost of pathology tests when the bulk-billing incentive for them ends in September. The deal also exposes the hypocrisy of Pathology Australia. Instead of ensuring that the deal would protect patients from increasing costs, the deal protects their profit margins and poor business model.
We shouldn’t allow ourselves to be fooled by Turnbull’s announcement when the reality is that private pathology providers will still be able to force patients to pay up-front fees for life-saving pathology tests. The only difference now is that they’ll be able to charge those up-front fees from 1 October instead of 1 July. This so-called deal has nothing to do with ensuring patients can get the test they need when they need them; and everything to do with ensuring that Pathology Australia ends its campaign which was clearly seen by the Turnbull Government as quite damaging in the midst of an election campaign.