Kerri-Anne Kennerley has branded Medicare sexist after the government announced a new rebate for prostate cancer MRI scans – while the same tests for breast cancer will not be eligible for many women.
Health Minister Greg Hunt announced in May that $20 million had been dedicated to the detection and monitoring of prostate cancer via MRIs, which includes a Medicare rebate of around $400 for the scans. However, those same rebates don’t extend to breast cancer MRIs.
Currently, women are only entitled to a partial rebate on breast cancer MRI scans if they’re under the age of 50 and at high risk of developing breast cancer because of a strong family history or a genetic mutation, Breast Cancer Network Australia (BCNA) states.
On Monday, making her debut on Studio 10, Kerri-Anne launched into a fiery attack against Medicare, claiming it’s unfair on breast cancer sufferers who face bills up to $1,500 for an MRI scan.
Kerri-Anne, a breast cancer survivor herself, argued the tests are essential, explaining that a last minute MRI ended up detecting a tumour in her own breast that she hadn’t known about, just a week before she was due to have surgery for another lump.
Without it, she may not have found it in time, yet she was still forced to cough up the huge fee for the scan.
“It is absolutely, without question, sexist,” she said. “For example, I have an MRI every single year as well as an ultrasound and mammogram. A week before I had breast cancer surgery, I had an MRI at the suggestion of my surgeon so they can plan better.”
Mimicking throwing a credit card down, she added: “They found a second tumour not picked up any other way. If she’d gone in, not knowing that, [it would have been a] very different result. No rebate.
“About a month ago Greg Hunt, our health minister, and the PBS system have given men a rebate for MRIs for prostate cancer, instead of having to have a biopsy in their prostate – because that’s very uncomfortable if they’ve got cancer. But it’s alright to punch us with needles in our boobs, nobody actually worries about that.”
The rebate essentially means some men could avoid a more painful and expensive biopsy altogether, instead paying much less for an MRI scan to rule out cancer early on.
Kerri-Anne continued: “Women who have cancer, not all women – because the health system is very good, we cannot overload, we cannot over-service – women with cancer, who are about to undergo surgery should be allowed (if their surgeon suggests it) to have an MRI at a reasonable rate.
“You’ve got to pay something, everybody has to pay something, but make it reasonable. Yes, it is absolutely sexist.”
Chief Operating Officer of Prostate Cancer Foundation of Australia (PCFA) Malcolm Freame said in a statement published to the organisation’s website the rebate will benefit thousands of men across the country. He added: “It will change prostate cancer care by reducing the number of biopsies that can leave men with infections and other unpleasant side effects.”
However, the government did set aside funds for women too, as a new rebate is now available for 3D mammogram testing. It creates a 3D image of the breast using x-ray images taken from several angles.