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Paying for Pap smears is a risky business

Remembering to get a Pap smear every two years is difficult enough, but with the proposed government bulk-billing cuts expected in July, now we’re going to have to pay for them too.

But it’s not just bulk-billing for Pap smears that are expected to go, with women having to pay $30 for the privilege — all of pathology is out, which means urine and blood tests are a no-go, too.

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The government has been criticised for releasing the information about such an unpopular cut during the Christmas and New Year break, when most people are out and about, not watching the news waiting for the government to release news of health cuts.

The cuts to pathology are dangerous because blood and urine tests are the main tool to diagnose sexually transmitted diseases. A price tag attached to the test just makes it even less of a priority for young adults.

Sexually transmitted diseases are on the rise in Australia, with the Government Department of Health reporting that diagnosed cases of HIV have increased by 10 percent in 2012 and are continuing to do so, while gonorrhoea has increase by a staggering 67 percent from 2008 to 2012.

Cancer diagnoses are 100 percent reliant on pathology tests, too, as Pathology Australia Chief Executive Liesel Wett told the Financial Review.

But Health Minister Sussan Ley says that the already competitive nature of the pathology industry will mean patients won’t be left with more fees to pay.

“Overall, I don’t expect patients to be worse off because what we will see is further competition,” she told ABC Radio this week.

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Australian Medical Association president, Professor Brian Owler, isn’t so sure, saying the cuts will put more strain on families.

“The Government is continuing to retreat from its core responsibilities in providing access to affordable, quality health services for the Australian people,” he said.

A petition has been created on by dismayed Australians who think paying for Pap smears and pathology testing is uncalled for, calling for both Pap smears and pathology to remain on the bulk-billing scheme so people aren’t tempted to forego testings.

A recent study showed that women whose cervical cancers were found by a Pap smear had a 92 percent rate of cure and recovery. But that rate fell to 66 percent among women who were diagnosed because of symptoms.

Dr Michael Harrison from the Royal College of Pathologists of Australasia warned the changes to the scheme could lead people to rethink early treatment, as a means of cutting costs.

“If people opt out of pathology testing because they are worried about how much it is going to cost, there will be a resurgence in late diagnosis of cancer, and there will be adverse outcomes,” he said.

The petition claims the cuts will specifically disadvantage women, as pathology tests are key to the early detection of cervical cancer, STIs, 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.”

What do you think about the cuts the government has proposed? Let us know.

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