Patients face being hit with up-front bills of up to $2200 for cancer tests under little-known changes linked to the Abbott Government's plan for Medicare co-payments.
Details of the shock slug emerged at a Senate inquiry yesterday looking at the unpopular patient co-payment announced in the May Budget.
While the Government stresses $7 is a modest amount for patients to pay to see a doctor or have a scan or blood test, the Australian Diagnostic Imaging Association warns the financial burden will be much bigger for patients using expensive services such as X-rays and MRIs.
According to the ADIA, radiologists who continue to bulk bill and not collect the $7 would have the Medicare rebate cut from 95 per cent to 85 per cent, forcing them to charge patients a higher out-of-pocket gap.
A safety net for high cost diagnostic tests such as nuclear medicine and MRIs would also be abolished.
And all patients would have to pay up-front fees because Medicare's payment systems did not allow practices to claim the rebate directly from the Government and charge patients just the gap.
The ADIA estimated patients would pay up to $92 up-front for X-Rays, $160 for mammograms, $189 for ultrasounds, $383 for CT scans, $464 for nuclear medicine and $500 for MRIs. A patient having a PET scan for a malignant melanoma could pay $945 up-front.
However, with many cancers and other conditions requiring multiple scans and tests to diagnose, costs would escalate.
"We believe the cuts do go too hard," ADIA chief executive Pattie Beerens told senators.
Opposition Leader Bill Shorten said this "hidden trap" would make health care unaffordable for many people.
However, a spokesman for Health Minister Peter Dutton said the only out-of-pocket expense for a patient when they were charged a co-payment would be the $7.
Practices that charged the co-payment would receive the Medicare rebate directly as currently occurs with bulk-billed services.
"It is anticipated that this will be the approach taken by most diagnostic imaging providers for most patients," the spokesman said.
"Diagnostic imaging providers will continue to determine the fees they charge."