Changes to Australia’s healthcare system could see women coughing up for pap smears.

Australian women could face being charged up to $21 to get a pap smear after the Federal Government declared its plans to change bulk-billing incentive payments for pathology services.

Announced over the Christmas break (sneaky, much?) the amendments – which come into play on July 1 this year – managed to slip under the radar until recently.

The changes in policy relate to an inefficient payment which is directly paid to pathology corporations, valued between $1.40 and $3.40 AUD. Although this will not effect the Medicare rebate, Australians are already worried companies who provide these services, such as pathology labs, will choose to pass on the extra costs of lost rebates to patients, and this may include essential testing for women, such as pap smears.

Laboratories most affected by these cuts are those that are in charge of assessing preventative examinations including imaging services, blood and urine tests, and pap smears. This is scary stuff when you consider 100 per cent of cancer diagnosis and 70 per cent of medical decisions rely on pathology tests.

Since the news broke, complaints have been coming in hard and fast, and an online petition started by Sydney woman, Brigette Garozzo, has been racking up hits, with over 130,000 supporters to date. The petition requests Australian Health Minister, Sussan Ley and the Liberal Government reconsider their plans, due to the fact they’re, ‘unfair to the average Australian, but will especially hurt women.’

“We won’t stand for it. We demand the Liberal government scrap this policy and ensure that pap smears and pathology services remain free,” says Garozzo.

In reaction to the public backlash of the new policy, Ley has announced the pap smear claims are “misleading” and that “there are no changes proposed in MYEFO regarding the cost of either receiving or delivering a physical pap smear examination…nor their billing practices.”

However while the cuts only effect pathology providers and will not harm GP costs or rebates for their services, there’s every chance the labs most affected will pass on the cost to the patient, a possibility causing outrage among Australian women who say they shouldn’t have to bear a financial burden for critical testing.

However burdening women financially for female specific services is hardly new. While the world is still seething over the tampon tax that’s seeing millions of women penalized for having a period, in the US, the several million women who don’t have health insurance can pay up to $200 for an annual pap smear, while UK women foot a whopping £70 for the same appointment, with additional testing costing upwards of £54.

Being a woman is difficult and expensive enough in today’s society, why should we add insult to injury by adding even more costs to the mix?

Comment: Where do you stand on healthcare costs for women?