Free blood tests: Labor raises health pressure
Bill Shorten will promise to fund $200 million worth of free blood tests for cancer patients and older Australians as he moves to reignite the bitter clash over pathology bulk billing that erupted during the 2016 Labor Medicare scare campaign.
The Opposition Leader will today confirm an extension to his signature $2.3 billion cancer care package after being forced to deny it was underfunded by $5.8bn.
Labor will promise to guarantee three million free pathology tests a year needed by cancer patients. The package will also fund 20 million pathology tests used by older Australians each year.
Larger pathology businesses have warned they need more taxpayer funds to ensure bulk billing is maintained for blood tests.
Mr Shorten will make Labor’s fifth health announcement since the election was called last Thursday, in a bid to confine the contest to health and cancer funding.
Scott Morrison yesterday accused Mr Shorten of being incapable of managing money after questions over the costings of Labor’s cancer care package.
Mr Shorten rejected the claims and will today double down on the policy by announcing its expansion. He will also revive Labor’s discredited 2016 election scare campaign over Medicare by accusing the Coalition of presiding over “savage cuts”. A senior Labor source said last night the ALP had succeeded in dragging the Coalition into its preferred territory of health, hospitals and Medicare.
During the 2016 election campaign, the Coalition was forced into a hasty retreat after Labor sided with large pathology labs, including those run by multinational healthcare providers, to oppose the removal of $650m in bulk-billing incentives.
Mr Shorten was accused of siding with the multinational companies after it was revealed pathology giant Sonic Healthcare had donated to the Labor election campaign.
The government ditched the bulk-billing plan, and in the 2017 budget pledged more funds to keep the incentive payments in order to retain high levels of bulk billing on pathology services.
Mr Shorten, despite yesterday having to defend questions over the costings of Labor’s cancer care package, appeared set to return to the battleground that almost cost Malcolm Turnbull the 2016 election. “A Shorten Labor government will ensure vital blood tests are protected from Scott Morrison’s health cuts — investing $200m to keep pathology tests free for older Australians and Australians with cancer,” Mr Shorten will say today.
“Blood tests are the frontline of treatment for cancer and serious diseases. They are critical not only for diagnosis, but to track whether a treatment is working or not.
“Bulk billing for blood tests is at breaking point — cancer patients will either have to pay, or there will be a reduction in services.”
Labor health spokeswoman Catherine King yesterday accused Health Minister Greg Hunt, who was campaigning at a cancer research centre in Melbourne, of a “desperate attempt to discredit our plan”.
Health Department analysis of cancer-related Medicare items suggests that if Labor promised to fund all existing cancer care including diagnostic, consultation and treatment over the next four years, it would end up $5.8bn short. Ms King said she had written to Health Department secretary Glenys Beauchamp who confirmed the department had not costed Labor’s policy, despite having provided analysis to the minister’s office based on what Labor had suggested its policy would be.
The Prime Minister used the apparent discrepancy in Labor’s costings to suggest Mr Shorten could not be trusted to manage money. “If you can’t manage money you can’t run the country; you can’t run a health system,” Mr Morrison said.