Removing the financial toxicity from the cancer care journey

Private Cancer Physicians of Australia and Rare Cancers Australia call for a Cancer Care Patient Safety Net

Media release: Thursday, March 24, 2022

Canberra: A cancer diagnosis should not force any Australian to live under the poverty line.
The nation’s peak body of cancer specialists and the leading patient advocacy group have collaborated over a suite of measures, aimed at better protecting Australia’s most vulnerable patients from financial duress.

At the heart of the ‘Cancer Care, No Gaps’ proposal by the Private Cancer Physicians of Australia and Rare Cancers Australia is a Cancer Care Patient Safety Net which is triggered the moment a clear diagnosis of cancer is made.

Right now, cancer patients must spend more than $2133 on medicines1 (Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme) and $1542.10 on medical services2 (Medicare Benefits Scheme for non-concessional patients) in a calendar year before they can access the Government’s respective patient safety net schemes.

“To tell a patient they have cancer, is hard,” President of the PCPA, Associate Professor Christopher Steer said. “To watch that patient, and their family, then struggle with the worry and stress over the financial impact of such a diagnosis, is something we can no longer tolerate, without trying to do as much as we can to lessen that burden.

As private cancer physicians providing high quality, personalised, patient-centred care, we work very hard to negate the out-of-pocket expenses that are within our control. But there are also other appointments, scans, medicines and a range of unexpected costs, that quickly add up.”

A/Professor Steer said a Cancer Care Patient Safety Net was a simple, scalable approach mobilising a proven platform that is already in place for all Australian patients.

“Removing the financial toxicity of the cancer care journey is a shared priority,” the founding Chair and founder of Rare Cancers Australia, Mr Richard Vines said.

“In the first year of the pandemic, more than 7000 Australians either missed or delayed seeking diagnosis and treatment out of fear of contracting COVID-193,” Mr Vines said. “Many of these Australians were also dealing with the economic stress of the pandemic.
Sadly, cancer does not wait and nor do the bills, that can quickly pile up. No Australian should feel they can’t seek lifesaving treatment because of all of out-of-pocket costs that they incur along the way.”

Among the other initiatives the PCPA and RCA recommends the next Australian Government adopt are:

  • the provision of experienced patient facilitators to help all cancer patients and their families navigate
  • what can be an overly complex private health system;
  • Putting an end to bill shock with the creation of a technology-driven ‘financial concierge’ system to
  • ensure all bills (regardless of what, and where, that provider is) can be seen and centred in one
  • place;
  • permanent patient access to subsidised specialist phone consults; and
  • a pilot program to financially enable people living with cancer in rural and regional Australia to access investigator-led clinical trials away from home.

“We must always prioritise the wellbeing of our most vulnerable Australians,” A/Professor Steer said.

Mr Vines agreed. “We will do all we can to work with the next Government to reduce the out-of-pocket costs of those already struggling with cancer and ensure any future policy decisions do not add to the financial toxicity of their cancer journey.” ENDS

The Cancer Care, No Gaps election manifesto is available on request.

1. http://www.mbsonline.gov.au/internet/mbsonline/publishing.nsf/Content/Factsheet-MSNThresholds_1Jan2019
2. https://www.humanservices.gov.au/individuals/services/medicare/pharmaceutical-benefits-scheme/when-you-spend-lot-pbs-medicines/pbs-safety-net-thresholds
3. https://www.canceraustralia.gov.au/about-us/news/cancer-wont-wait-during-covid-19-pandemic


Media enquiries

PCPA:
Jannette Cotterell. Executive Counsel Australia jcotterell@executivecounsel.com.au
Mobile: 0419 204 059
NB Assoc Professor Steer is a practicing regional-based oncologist and may not be available at all times

RCA:
Casey Virgin. Communications Manager casey.virgin@rarecancers.org.au
Mobile: 0499 880 742


About the Private Cancer Physicians of Australia

The Private Cancer Physicians of Australia (PCPA) is a not-for-profit organisation dedicated to the improvement of the health system for all cancer patients, but particularly for private cancer patients in Australia.

About Rare Cancers of Australia

Rare Cancers Australia Ltd (RCA) is a charity whose purpose is to improve the lives and health outcomes of Australians living with rare and less common (RLC) cancers. In Australia in 2017, an estimated 52,000 people were diagnosed with RLC cancers, and 25,000 died from them, according to Cancer in Australia 2017 estimates.

As distinct from common cancers (breast, prostate, bowel, lung and melanoma) there is very little patient support offered to RLC cancer patients. RCA works tirelessly to ensure that this cancer group will never be forgotten or ignored again.

Download a copy of this media release in PDF.

At risk cancer patients to continue to access Telehealth rebates

Cancer physicians applaud Government’s reversal of Telehealth cuts

Media Release Sunday January 16, 2021

Canberra: Australian cancer patients will still be able to access vital Medicare rebates for phone calls with their specialists – at least for the next six months – after the Australian Government reversed an unexpected decision to axe the Telehealth item.

The nation’s peak body of cancer specialists had been strongly advocating for their patients to continue to access subsidised phone call consultations, especially at a time when the surge in COVID-19 posed a great risk to those Australians with compromised immunity.

The Telehealth reforms were announced eight working days before they were due to start on January 01, 2022. It sparked immediate concerns for the Private Cancer Physicians of Australia (PCPA) who said too many cancer patients – elderly, regional, those without stable internet, with landlines only and those who couldn’t manage the technology – simply could not cope without access to subsidised phone consults.

The President of the PCPA, Assoc Professor Christopher Steer, said today’s announcement by the Minister for Health, the Hon Greg Hunt MP and the Regional Health Minister, Dr David Gillespie MP, was an immense relief for Australia’s cancer patients, their families and their specialists.

“At a time of surging pandemic, we need our immunocompromised vulnerable Australians to stay at home and not be forced to travel into public areas where COVID-19 may be rampant,” A/Professor Steer said.

“We are very supportive of Telehealth, particularly during this pandemic and making it permanent was a welcome decision but then the fine print was only revealed days before Christmas.”

After successfully and urgently advocating for the Medicare rebate (item number 91835) for phone call consults to be reinstated, A/Professor Steer praised the Government for being flexible and listening to cancer patients, and their specialists, before any unintended consequences were inflicted on such a vulnerable patient cohort.

The PCPA also welcomed the extension of Telehealth rebates for patients, who are in hospital, to receive a phone consultation with their specialist.

A/Professor also applauded patient advocacy groups, such Pink Hope, Rare Cancers of Australia and the Breast Cancer Network of Australia and colleagues from the Clinical Oncology Society of Australia (COSA) and the Medical Oncology Group of Australia (MOGA) for their collaborative support.

The PCPA will continue to advocate for the reinstatement of the 50% loading (item number 112) for video consultations for regional and rural patients.

“We must always prioritise the wellbeing of our most vulnerable Australians,” A/Professor Steer said.

“We will do all we can to work with the Government to reduce the out-of-pocket costs of those already struggling with cancer and ensure any future policy decisions do not add to the financial toxicity of their cancer journey.” ENDS

Media contact:

Jannette Cotterell. Executive Counsel Australia. jcotterell@executivecounsel.com.au

Mobile: 0419 204 059

NB Assoc Professor Steer is a practicing regional-based oncologist and may not be available at all times

Download a copy of this media release in PDF.

At-risk cancer patients to be hit hard by cuts to

Telehealth phone call rebates due on January 01, 2022

Media Release. Embargoed until: Wednesday, December 29, 2021

Australian Cancer patients be amongst those to bear the brunt of the axing of vital Medicare rebates for phone calls with their specialists. Those most negatively impacted will be elderly patients, regional and rural patients, those without stable internet, unable to manage video calls, and whom should not be venturing into hospitals and medical centres at a time of surging COVID-19.

The nation’s peak body of cancer specialists has expressed grave concerns about the potentially devasting consequences for some of Australia’s most vulnerable patients of the proposed changes to the Telehealth rebates. These changes will see funding for telephone appointments cut drastically.

The President of the Private Cancer Physicians of Australia (PCPA), Dr Christopher Steer, said private cancer specialists were given only 8 working days’ notice (over the Christmas and New Year period) about the changes to their patients’ access to subsidised phone call consultations, that start on January 01, 2022.

“We are very supportive of Telehealth, particularly during this pandemic and making it permanent is a welcome decision but then the fine print was only revealed days before Christmas,” Dr Steer said.

A Medicare rebate (item number 91835) for phone calls will be scrapped along with a 50% loading (item number 112) for video consultations for regional and rural patients.

The PCPA has called on the Government to defer this dramatic change for at least six months, so immunocompromised patients will not be forced to leave the safety of their homes for a consultation with their specialist, at a time when COVID-19 is escalating again.

“The impact of the significantly increased out-of-pocket costs on patients, already struggling with the financial toxicity of their cancer journey, also needs to be determined before these changes are  imposed,” Dr Steer said. “Many specialists, like myself, prefer video or face-to-face but for many of our patients, especially now, as we experience another wave of COVID-19; neither are an option,”

Cancer patient advocacy groups and oncologists are only now realising what these changes could mean for their patients. The CEO of Pink Hope, Ms Sarah Powell, said she was incredulous over the shock changes, especially given the surge in COVID-19.

“Regional and remote cancer patients will be hard hit by this. Too many simply can’t use video due to reasons beyond their control and they should not, must not, be forced to travel into public spaces, where COVID-19 could be rampant,” Ms Powell said. “We must defer these changes before they have a catastrophic impact on those who are already doing it tough.”

Hunter Valley haematologist, Dr Wojt Janowski, said he was extremely disappointed by the unexpected changes.

“It is with a heavy heart that I will no longer offer Telehealth and I will be withdrawing from great initiatives like Telehealth 4 the Bush.

With the removal of the phone items for initial and standard consults, we are now penalising patients for having poor internet connections, older telephones, living remotely, and being older,” Dr Janowski said. “It is such a shame. Telehealth had been such a lifesaving initiative throughout the pandemic.” ENDS

Media contact:

Jannette Cotterell. Executive Counsel Australia. jcotterell@executivecounsel.com.au
Mobile: 0419 204 059

NB Dr Steer is a practicing regional based oncologist and may not be available at all times

Download a copy of this media release in PDF.