‘Free blood tests for older Aussies’: Shorten vows to increase bulk billing

Bill Shorten has made another health promise as the May 18 election date looms, this time promising to keep blood tests free for older Aussies and cancer patients. Source: Getty

Opposition leader Bill Shorten is promising to fund $200 million worth of free blood tests for older Australians and cancer patients if he’s elected as prime minister at next month’s election. It’s the latest in a number of health promises the Labor leader has made in recent weeks, as the May 18 election date quickly approaches.

Older members of the community are expected to undergo 20 million pathology tests by the end of the year, while the figure sits at around three million for cancer patients. Without bulk billing, pathology tests could cost people, particularly if they require regular tests or are not eligible for a full rebate.

According to a 9 News article shared by Shorten on Tuesday morning, pathology tests will remain free for cancer patients and older Australians if Labor wins the next election. While the Medicare rebate for pathology has been frozen since 2003, Shorten said the investment of $200 million would mean it remains free for vulnerable Australians and that without funding, pathology services could be forced to stop bulk billing.

“Bulk billing for blood tests is at breaking point – cancer patients will either have to pay, or there will be a reduction in services,” he wrote on Facebook. “That’s why Labor will invest $200 million to protect pathology and keep it free for vulnerable Australians.”

Shorten, appearing on Tuesday’s episode of Sunrise, also denied that Labor’s $2.3 billion investment to slash out-of-pocket expenses for cancer patients was an “irresponsible hoax”, as implied by the Coalition, and that his plan wasn’t going to cost billions more than he has promised.

“I’d say last week the government said there wasn’t a problem with cancer funding. They said it’s all free,” he told hosts David Koch and Natalie Barr. “This week they’re saying we’re not spending enough. The fact of the matter is that when you’re in the fight of your life, you shouldn’t have to be worried about the out-of-pockets.”

He confirmed that if elected, Labor would increase bulk-billing from around 40 per cent to 80 per cent.

“I think cancer makes you sick, but it shouldn’t make you poor. We absolutely believe we are on the right track,” he added. “Medicare should be there for when you need it and when it comes to cancer, one in two Australians will be diagnosed by cancer in their life. We just want to make sure that people don’t have to be distracted by massive out-of-pocket bills, which is the current problem.”

It comes after Shorten announced $250 million would be dedicated to blitz elective surgery waiting lists in public hospitals as part of Labor’s Better Hospitals Fund. This is in addition to the $500 million commitment he previously promised to slash public hospital waiting lists for cancer patients as part of Labor’s Medicare Cancer Plan.

In a statement, shorten said the $250 million investment could pay for more than 62,000 cataract procedures, 9,800 knee replacements or 9,400 hip replacements. He also said Labor would invest $40 million in local National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) workforce trials and $50 million to kickstart Stage 2 of Concord Repatriation General Hospital’s redevelopment.

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