After Health Minister Sussan Ley justified reduction of bulk-billing incentives as a means to fund the hepatitis C cure, she announced the scrapping of 23 items from the Medicare Benefits Schedule (MBS) that includes ear, nose and throat surgery and diagnostic imaging. She pointed out the fact that these items cost the country $6.8 million when used 52,500 times. In a major shake-up of Medicare, even thoracic medicines, obstetrics and gastroenterology are on the chopping block.

However, Ms. Ley also said that 5,700 MBS items are being reviewed by a task force and they would seek further advice before scrapping the 23 items. The Australian Medical Association (AMA) has warned that chopping off these items from the MBS will only add to the misery of patients and leave them financially worse off due to higher out-of-pocket costs, reports SBS.

The Federal Opposition has also criticised the government of using the health portfolio as a “cash cow” to fix its budget woes.

“It does bring into question just what intention the government has in relation to its review of the Medicare schedule. They have already cut billions out of health. They seem to see health as a bit of a cash cow for Treasury,” said Catherine King, Labor's health spokesperson.

Ms. Ley had pointed out that there is a clinical consensus on the fact that these 23 items scheduled to be scrapped are “obsolete” and that they no longer represent clinical best-practice. Moreover, clinical experts have also assured that the dropping of these items will not, in any way, have adverse impacts on a patient’s access to health services.

However, Ms. Ley’s comments did not go down well with Australian Medical Association President Brian Owler who said that there is no need for any consultation if the health minister has “already made up her mind” for the cost-cutting exercise. Prof. Owler added that even if some of the services are not used often that does not make them “obsolete.”

According to ABC News, Ms. Ley has said that the Medicare savings will be split between the Treasury and listing new procedures on the MBS. The government is concerned that procedures such as tonsillectomies and knee arthroscopies are being unnecessarily ordered and at times even for the wrong people.