Detecting a tumour in a timely manner can be the difference between life and death for cancer patients. With regard to breast cancer patients this is especially true since MRI scans have a higher potential to signal out undetected breast tumours than simple mammograms. However, not every breast cancer patient has the means to access such treatment procedures.
In Australia, MRI scans are not funded by Medicare making it difficult for many women to avail the service. Most of these women may not have the finances to fund the out of pocket costs associated with receiving the service. If funded privately a single scan could cost patients up to $555 out of their personal funds but some women have reported spending up to $1600 for a single MRI screening.
Am I Covered By Medicare For My MRI Scans?
Medicare rebate for the procedure is only available to women who are under the age of 50 and at a higher risk of developing the condition. According to Breast Cancer Network Australia women younger than 50 are likely to have denser breasts where mammography may not be as effective as an MRI scan in detecting tumours.
But many others who may have been already diagnosed with the condition cannot receive the rebate for their MRI scan. Even though these patients are often recommended to get the screening done, many of them cannot do so because of the expenses involved. Statistics suggest that out of the 15,000 women diagnosed with breast cancer each year, about one in ten women who are advised to get an MRI scan done, refuse the test as they are constrained for funds needed for the procedure.
What Are The Costs In Reality?
Costs incurred in seeking MRI screening also includes other expenses than that of the screening alone. These extra expenses can include costs that come after a confirmed diagnosis of cancer, post-operative check costs, treatment and care costs, travel expenses, childcare costs and loss of wages if time need be taken off from work, or if the patient is no longer able to work.
Currently Medicare provides a $45.90 rebate for post-operative mammograms, but in reality the cost of such screening can go up to as high as $400 for patients. For some breast cancer patients such as Maxine Swensson, having repeated mammograms did not even did not even detect her breast tumour until an MRI scan was carried out.
The procedure cost MS. Swensson out of pocket expenses of $750, to afford which she did not pay her bills or monthly rent. Since then she has had more precancerous lumps detected by a follow up MRI scan. MS. Swensson has managed to find an alternative and less expensive MRI service that still costs her $300 per screening, but at the same time has had to cut down on her weekly working hours. Less hours means more of a struggle to get the needed funds and she has received financial assistance for her last MRI scan from a friend.
Greater access to timely MRI scans means having to spend less on otherwise expensive cancer treatment options.
1) Kerri-Anne Kennerley leads Breast Cancer Network fight with Medicare: http://www.news.com.au/lifestyle/health/kerrianne-kennerley-leads-breast-cancer-network-fight-with-medicare/story-fneuzlbd-1226889302532
2) BCNA seeks extension of breast MRI rebates: http://www.bcna.org.au/news/2014-04/bcna-seeks-extension-breast-mri-rebates