Chances are you’ve caught wind this week of the ‘new pap smear test’, and the controversy surrounding it.
The new program was set to kick off on May 1, but was announced this week to be delayed until December 1 2017. Also haunting the new test is a barrage of online protest, directed at the Australian Government.
So what exactly is going on? And what do you need to know?
In April 2014, the Australian Government announced a new cervical cancer test would potentially be introduced.
This announcement went relatively unexplored until 2015, when the new federal budget announced major healthcare cuts, including that of pap smears. It was rumoured that women were now forced to pay $30 a pap smear – a fact that many deemed unfair.
Cast your mind back to November last year, and you might remember how more than a few people were up in arms about the #PapSmearCuts. In fact, there’s even a Change.org petition making the rounds protesting the changes.
Listen: Mia Freedman shares her most awkward pap smear story. (Post continues after audio.)
The protests around the new cervical cancer tests were about the new costs.
Previously, pap smears were free. But under the new system, patients are up for the cost of both the doctor’s visit, and the pathology fees.
“We demand pap smears and pathology services remain free of charge. These cuts are unfair to the average Australian, but will especially hurt women,” wrote the petition.
“Free and accessible pathology tests are key to ensuring early detection of cervical cancer, STI’s, UTIs and pregnancy. Late detection will lead to MORE cost to the taxpayer in the long run. These essential services are a backbone of our world class healthcare system.”
But it wasn’t entirely true.
In response, Federal Health Minister Sussan Ley – to whom the petition was directed – denied the claims.
“There are no changes proposed in MYEFO regarding the cost of either receiving or delivering a physical pap smear examination undertaken by your GP or specialist, nor their billing practices,” said Ley.
If your pathologist or doctor is not prepared to take on a small payment (between $1.40 to $3.40) as a gap payment separate from the Medicare rebate, the customer could have to pay it.
So where did $30 a test come from?
Ironically, not even the founder of the Change.org petition – 25-year-old Brigitte Garozzo – has any idea where that figure came from.
In an interview with Triple J’s Hack program, Doctor Michael Harrison, President of the Royal College of Pathologists Australasia, said that the $30 could come from a variety of costs – and could even end up being higher.
“When you have a pathology test we can’t actually raise a bill until we’ve done the test… If we don’t bulk bill it and send straight to Medicare, we have to send an account to the patient,” he said, adding that manually sending out a paper account to a patient costs $15 or $20 alone. The fee for a pap smear therefore could come to $60 in total.