Women’s Health Checks: Medicare Vs Health Insurance
There are several health checks that are recommended for women, including pap tests, pelvic exams, blood pressure checks and STI screenings. Some of the tests can be partially or fully covered by Medicare and for those that aren’t, you may be able to get some help from health insurance. Here, we look at some of the tests that are recommended for women and how much support you can expect from Medicare.
Pap tests are recommended every 2 years by the Department of Health for all women aged 18 to 70 who have had sexual intercourse. This will pick up abnormalities in the cervix that could lead to cervical cancer further down the line. Up to 90 per cent of cervical cancers can be detected through pap tests. Around 200 Australian women are believed to die each year as a result of cervical cancer – the vast majority of which had not had pap tests.
The Medicare Situation: Due to the Department of Health’s efforts to raise awareness of cervical cancer, Australian women do not need to pay for the pap test itself. However, there may be a fee for the services of the medical professional carrying out the test.
Many sexually transmitted infections (STIs) do not have symptoms so you may not realise that you have one if you are not being tested regularly. Chlamydia is a common example of this and can affect fertility. Yearly tests are recommended if you are sexually active and at risk of picking up an STI. The exact nature of what is involved will depend on the STI that you’re being tested for and can be vaginal swabs, urine samples, blood tests and physical examinations. Doctors, family planning centres and sexual health clinics can all carry out STI tests.
The Medicare Situation: STI tests may be free of charge with a valid Medicare card. If this is not the case, you will usually be obliged to pay pathology-related costs.
Pelvic examinations go much further than pap tests and can highlight irregularities with the pelvic organs such as the uterus, cervix, Fallopian tubes, ovaries and bladder. This may be recommended if you have pelvic or abdominal pain, for example. It can be in the form of an ultrasound scan but if a condition such as endometriosis is suspected, it may involve a laparoscopy instead. The latter procedure is done under anaesthetic and involves the insertion of a small camera to get a better look at the pelvic organs.
The Medicare Situation: A Medicare rebate is available for pelvic ultrasounds but there may still be some out of pocket costs, especially if you do not have health insurance.
The Health Insurance Situation: A pelvic ultrasound can be covered by private health insurance if it is requested by a doctor for diagnosis of a problem. Many health funds will include minor gynaecological procedures on Hospital cover but this will not necessarily extend to a laparoscopy procedure.
Blood Pressure Checks
Even if your blood pressure is typically normal, it is advisable to have it checked at least once per year. Risk factors include being overweight, not getting enough exercise, smoking, and a family history of heart disease. Heart disease is a big issue for Australian women, and it’s actually the leading cause of death (much more than breast cancer). High blood pressure often has no symptoms and can put added strain on the heart and lead to problems such as heart disease, heart attack, stroke, and eye and kidney problems.
The Medicare Situation: Your GP can check your blood pressure at appointments. One high reading does not necessarily indicate high blood pressure but if there is ongoing concern about your readings, you may be referred for an Ambulatory Blood Pressure Monitoring test. This will monitor your blood pressure over the course of 24 hours for a much clearer picture of how your readings may alter during the day and night. There is no Medicare rebate for this so you can expect out-of-pocket costs if you need this test.
The Health Insurance Situation: As well as regular blood pressure checks at the GP surgery, you may also want to use a blood pressure monitor to take readings at home more regularly. Some health funds cover the costs of these kind of health-related appliances on Extras policies, especially if you are diagnosed with high blood pressure and/or your GP has advised that you do keep a close check on your blood pressure. Bear in mind that not all health funds will offer this option and for those that do, you may need to have relatively broad Extras cover.
Breast & Bowel Cancer Screenings
As you get older, the risk of breast cancer and bowel cancer increases.
Mammograms are recommended every couple of years from the age of 50 but your GP may suggest that you have one earlier than this if there are concerns about your breast health and/or there is a family history of breast cancer.
Bowel cancer screening is also recommended from the age of 50, and will involve doing an at-home test to check whether there is any blood in your stool. This doesn’t necessarily mean that you have bowel cancer but you are at much greater risk of developing it if the test is positive.
The Medicare Situation: Mammograms are free through Breast Screen Australia from the ages of 50 to 65 on a 2-yearly basis. Bowel cancer testing kits are also free of charge for Australians aged 50, 55, 60 and 65. There are plans to extend this for ages in between this.
Medicare provides a strong – but ultimately incomplete – safety net for Women’s Health checks. The right Private Health Insurance policy fills these gaps and provides a holistic approach to coverage in conjunction with the public system. Compare health funds today at www.healthinsurancecomparison.com.au and find the right policy at the right price!
This is an S2 POST.