Only people with Medicare cards are officially allowed to visit BreastScreen clinics. (Facebook: West Moreton HHS)
Queensland Health Minister Steven Miles has hit out at his federal counterpart over a push to police patient access at BreastScreen clinics.
Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt wrote to state ministers last week, advising them to ensure only Medicare cardholders were using the service for free.
Mr Miles has slammed the proposed enforcement measures as “racist” and “ridiculous”.
“So much effort has gone into telling women when they should get breast screens,” he said.
Steven Miles (R) said enforcement measures imposed by Greg Hunt (L) were “racist” and “ridiculous”. (ABC News)
“This decision just flies in the face of all that investment and all of that effort for the sake of a few measly dollars and a racist dog-whistle.”
Services at BreastScreen clinics are covered by Medicare, but across Australia the facilities are run under state arrangements.
The dispute comes after concern in New South Wales where it has been reported international visitors can access services for free.
Mr Miles said the push would only affect a “small group of people” such as visitors and temporary visa cardholders and it would cost more to enforce than any money it saved.
“Ultimately, it could be more expensive to implement these changes than it would cost to deliver the screens to the women who want them,” Mr Miles said.
“The BreastScreen services are already there, the money is spent and the number of people presenting without a Medicare card would be incredible low.
“If you were here on holidays and you found a lump in your breast and you asked an Australian friend what you should do — well, I think they should be breast screened.”
A spokeswoman for Mr Hunt said the states should ensure only eligible patients receive free testing.
“The Minister raised these concerns with the states and territories after reports from NSW that the system was allegedly being rorted by people coming from overseas and using these services,” she said.
“State and territory governments run BreastScreen Australia services, which are funded to cater for Australian women.
“The Minister’s primary concern in raising this issue is to ensure the system is not being misused in NSW or elsewhere in Australia.”
People eligible for Medicare cards include Australian and New Zealand citizens, permanent residents or residential return visa holders, but not some temporary visa holders.
Carrie Barnett from the Ethnic Communities Council of Queensland said turning patients away or making them pay for a test would be unfair.
“There are already barriers for women who speak English as a second language, or women from refugee and asylum seeker backgrounds, women from migrant backgrounds — there’s enough barriers that make them less likely to access free breast screens as it is,” she said.
“You’re going to ask someone who already is disadvantaged in other ways in their life to pay for something that could let them know if they have a diagnosis?
“In terms of cost in the long run, you want to be able to treat people early on.”