Minister announces funding for new Medicare items

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Health minister Greg Hunt has announced funding for 33 new Medicare items, including genetic testing for women with a family history of breast and ovarian cancer.

The new items are being funded from yesterday following recommendations from the Medical Services Advisory Committee (MSAC).

A Medicare rebate of $1,200 is now available for a test of up to eight genes, including the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes, for women diagnosed with breast or ovarian cancer who are assessed as likely to have a genetic mutation that increases their risk of breast or ovarian cancer.

The test will be available to women who are diagnosed with breast or ovarian cancer, following an assessment by a medical specialist. If they are found to have the mutations, their close relatives will also be eligible for testing through Medicare

The recommendation to fund the test was based on a submission from the Royal College of Pathologists of Australasia.

In making its recommendation, MSAC said the submission was a pilot application to develop a process of applying for public funding for testing groups of genes rather than testing individual genes. 

According to Danielle Spence, director of policy and advocacy for the Breast Cancer Network Australia, "Women diagnosed with breast cancer already face so many out-of-pocket costs. Finding out whether they have a genetic mutation that increases their risk of breast and other cancers in the future should not be one of them. The rebates will improve women’s access to genetic testing.

"Timely access is the key. Women who are deemed to be high risk for BRCA 1 or BRCA 2 need this information to help them make informed treatment decisions that are right for them."

Government is also funding PET (positron emission tomography) imaging for more than 2,000 patients with slow growing non-Hodgkin lymphoma. It will allow patients and their doctors to monitor the progress of the disease using nuclear medicine diagnostic services.

An estimated 800 patients a year, who are not suitable for open heart surgery, will be able to receive Medicare support for a Transcatheter Aortic Valve Implantation (TAVI), an innovative minimally invasive procedure to replace aortic valves with disease. 

More than 700 patients a year, who cannot take blood-thinning medication, will be able to access a new service to insert a device which can lower the risk of stroke in people who have an irregular heart rhythm. 

Stroke patients will also receive Medicare access for mechanical thrombectomy, a new treatment to mechanically remove blood clots from the brain, minimise damage and greatly improve patients’ prognosis. Around 200 people a year are expected to undergo this procedure which is used to dissolve blood clots, or for patients who are not suitable for medication therapy.

In addition, six new Medicare items will be added for vagus nerve stimulation therapy for management of treatment resistant epilepsy. 

Microwave tissue ablation for primary liver tumours will also be added as an alternative to radio frequency ablation treatment for patients who have tumours that cannot be treated by conventional surgery.