Health Minister Sussan Ley has slammed claims the removal of bulk-billing incentive payments for pathology services will leave women paying $30 for a pap smear.
Pathologists have warned of potentially fatal consequences if women are forced to fork out $30 for the cervical cancer screening test.
They say the cost will need to be passed on for all pathology tests, insisting previous government cuts mean laboratories will be unable to absorb the costs if the government goes ahead with its plan to scrap the payments from July 1.
Labor has vowed to block the measures in the Senate with opposition health spokeswoman Catherine King calling on the government to allow debate on the issue, amid concerns the measure could be bundled up with other Medicare regulations, making it harder to defeat.
Ms Ley’s office hit back on Wednesday, insisting the removal of the incentive payment was separate to the Medicare rebate paid for procedures like pap smears.
It argues stock exchange-listed pathology companies are concerned about the impact on shareholders, not patients.
“Medicare is not designed to be a guaranteed bankable revenue for corporations, nor is a taxpayer-funded payment like this provided to cross-subsidise other costs of doing business for pathology companies,” a spokesperson said.
The health minister has previously conceded “some may be worse off” under the changes.
Ms King says the government should have negotiated with the pathology sector to ensure bulk billing was protected.
Any barrier to accessing pap smears would have health consequences, she added.
“They introduce a very big blunt instrument, no warning, no negotiation with the sector,” she said.
Labor made cuts to pathology when in government, but Ms King said those savings were made in consultation with the sector and some were redirected to bulk billing incentives.