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Thursday, 2 June 1994
Page: 1278

(Question No. 1338)

Senator Patterson asked the Minister representing the Minister for Human Services and Health, upon notice, on 27 April 1994:

  (1) Who is conducting the current review into the funding of magnetic resonance imaging services.

  (2) What are the terms of the review.

  (3) When is it expected that the review will be completed.

  (4) What groups or organisations have had input into the review.

Senator Crowley —The Minister for Human Services and Health has provided the following answer to the honourable senator's question:

  (1) There is no formal review into the funding arrangements for magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) services.

  The Government's policy for funding MRI services was examined following representations from the Royal Australasian College of Radiologists for an expansion in Medicare funding. The Government has now considered the issues raised in the submission and has decided that there should be no change to its policy for subsidising the provision of MRI services through Medicare.

  The current policy is based on the results of a comprehensive national MRI assessment program which was established as a joint Commonwealth-State initiative and conducted under the auspices of the National Health Technology Advisory Panel (NHTAP) over the period 1986 to 1990.

  The policy responds to the concerns of the Commonwealth and State Governments that complex and high cost technologies like MRI are introduced in a planned and cost-effective way. Accordingly, the policy for Medicare funding of MRI services targets subsidies to a set number of publicly owned MRI units via a grants program to States. Based on NHTAP's recommendations, a national supply target of 18 MRI units has been set to meet the needs of both private (non-compensable) patients and Medicare hospital patients, mainly for neurological and neurosurgical applications.

  Under the MRI program, the Commonwealth provides capital grants to States for the purchase of MRI units and about 80 per cent of recurrent costs. States are responsible for locating the Medicare funded units within major neurological centres and choosing the physical location of units. States also provide the remaining 20 per cent of recurrent costs.

  States are also able to purchase services from privately owned MRI facilities under the terms of the program.

  A capital replacement program commenced in 1993-94 to ensure that MRI technology funded through the program is up-to-date.

  Units have been established progressively with fourteen units now operating and the remaining four will be operational by July 1994. MRI is available at the designated units free of charge to private (non-compensable) patients, hospital out-patients and Medicare hospital in-patients on the basis of referral by a specialist.

  In 1994-95, the Commonwealth's contribution to the costs of the MRI program will amount to some $21.5 million.

  A targeted grants program is considered a better funding approach than Medicare rebates for providing Australians with access to clinically appropriate and quality MRI services which are affordable to patients and the community while constraining the proliferation of a complex and potentially expensive technology.

  (2) While there is no formal review underway, the Department of Human Services and Health continues to monitor developments in MRI, including the published scientific literature on emerging clinical applications of the technology.

  (3) Not applicable.

  (4) The Royal Australasian College of Radiologists has made a submission to the Government on the need for an extension of Medicare subsidies for MRI in Australia.