Concerns about impact of safety net cuts on rural patients

NOT HEALTHY: Senator Nick Xenophon.
NOT HEALTHY: Senator Nick Xenophon. AAP

REGIONAL cancer, IVF and psychiatric patients could be left footing extra medical bills if government cuts to the Medicare safety net pass parliament this week.

While the government's Health Insurance Amendment (Safety Net) Bill was delayed for debate on Monday, the government faces a battle getting Senate crossbench support.

Influential Senator Nick Xenophon said the bill, which would reap $266 million in savings through changes to the safety net, was not health reform but a "blatant financial bill".

He said there was no way he could support the proposals, which would cut the cost of some services from contributing to the safety net rebates.

His comments follow several health groups including the Australian Medical Association slamming the bill, warning some mental health patients could delay treatment due to costs.

Dr Shirley Prager from the National Association of Practising Psychiatrists said the bill could mean a patient who had two psychiatric appointments a week, paying up to $200 a week extra.

For at least a year the association and a group of IVF and cancer lobby groups had been seeking a meeting with Health Minister Sussan Ley, who they said had not made time for them. John Stubbs from cancer patient group CanSpeak said the changes would hit regional cancer patients given the costs of travelling for treatments, but he could not say how much, as patients need varying levels of services.

Similarly, Nicole Sides from the Fertility Society of Australia said IVF patients could also be left with an even larger bill, and it was unclear why the proposals were still on the government's agenda, given a separate Medicare subsidies review.

Questions were put to Ms Ley's office before filing.

Topics:  health medicare politics

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