Government investment in pathology services to benefit thousands
The Federal Government has announced that it will be investing $667.1 million into increasing pathology services for Australians over the next four years, including extending Medicare subsidies for COVID-19 testing until 31 December 2021. The funding was announced earlier this month as part of the 2021/22 budget and builds on previous investment, totalling $1.8 billion since the start of the pandemic. Dr Michael Dray, President of the RCPA, explains what we can expect.
“The RCPA is very supportive of the Federal Government’s announcement, which will assist in ensuring high quality pathology services remain available to patients across the country. Since the start of the pandemic, we have seen how widely available COVID-19 testing has supported the management of the disease, including the early detection of cases in the community.
“In turn, timely and accurate pathology testing also supports rapid and successful outbreak responses, safeguarding the maintenance of eased restrictions and minimising the economic consequences of the pandemic. By maintaining these high levels of testing, we have been able to quickly detect and respond to outbreaks, and ultimately protect the community.”
The Australian Government’s COVID-19 pathology investments includes $493.5 million to extend the COVID-19 gold standard polymerase chain reaction (PCR) microbiology test for the general population and items associated with testing for some essential workers. In addition, $63.6 million has been allocated to extend the dedicated ‘in-reach’ pathology service for residential aged care facilities to protect those Australians most at risk of the worst effects of COVID-19.
In addition to continued support for COVID-19 testing, the Government has announced a number of new inclusions to the Medicare Benefits Schedule (MBS). This means thousands more Australian patients will benefit from diagnostic and monitoring testing carried out by pathologists in laboratories around the country.
“High quality pathology services should remain affordable to all Australians and this is a huge win for patients, their referring doctors and the pathology profession. Pathology tests play a vital role in more than 70% of medical diagnoses in Australia and inform many clinical decisions related to patient care. This inclusion of new pathology related procedures and tests to the MBS means more Australian patients are able to access critical diagnostic and monitoring tests, with lower out-of-pocket costs,” said Dr Dray.
As part of the Government’s investment into increased pathology services, $107.5 million will fund new genetic testing procedures on the MBS. This includes several items which come following several applications to the Medical Services Advisory Committee (MSAC) by the RCPA. This includes $2.5 million for diagnosis of hydatidiform moles (expected to benefit 9,000 patients); $6.3 million genetic testing for pregnancies with identified major foetal structural abnormalities (expected to benefit 42,000 patients); and $2.9 million for genetic testing for people with multiple myeloma and chronic lymphocytic leukaemia (expected to benefit 13,500 patients).
In addition, $95.9 million has been announced for pre-implantation genetic testing for individuals who are carriers of serious genetic disorders – such as Duchenne muscular dystrophy, Huntington’s disease, Fragile X and cystic fibrosis (expected to benefit 6,800 patients).
Other notable inclusions for pathology services include; $41,000 for amendments to the Quality Assurance for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Medical Services (QAAMS) items, to help manage patients with multiple comorbidities (expected to benefit 662 patients over 4 years); $375,000 for diagnostic testing for neuromyelitis optica, following an application by the RCPA (expected to benefit 40,000 patients); new items for faecal calprotectin (FC) testing for the differential diagnosis of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) from inflammatory bowel disease (IBD); and amendments to certain genetic testing for childhood syndromes.
“These inclusions to the MBS will benefit thousands of patients and we are thrilled to see such an encouraging investment in pathology. Pathologists often work behind the scenes; however, Australia’s pathology workforce consists of about 35,000 people who collect, process and report on approximately 500 million pathology tests each year. Not only is pathology integral to the diagnosis of every cancer, it is the foundation for the clinical practice of medicine, paving the way to the appropriate diagnosis, management and treatment of diseases,” said Dr Dray.