PATIENTS have been forced to put their lives at risk by delaying vital MRI scans after the only facility in Griffith was refused a bulk billing licence by the federal government.
Insight Radiology - the only facility with an MRI scanner in Griffith - charges patients between $330 and $930 for the potentially life-saving scan a scan that would be free if the business was able to bulk bill to Medicare.
Fed-up staff at the clinic have taken action, circulating a petition for the licence after hearing dozens of heart-breaking stories from patients who say they would need to spend months saving before they could afford the scan.
Pensioner Gwen Beaton knows all too well the gut-wrenching decision of money versus health, after her disabled daughter Becky delayed scans of a suspected cancerous tumour because of the cost.
"Becky was beside herself because she's had cancer before and there's family history," Mrs Beaton said.
"It was agonising not knowing whether she had cancer and whether it was spreading through her body without being able to do anything about it.
"Her life depended on getting an MRI scan and despite her disability pension, we were going to have borrow money we couldn't afford to repay just to find out what she had."
Mrs Beaton, who has been delaying a scan of her own crushed vertebrae since January, was forced to endure an agonising trip to Wagga where bulk billing is available.
There were 191 bulk billing licences issued last year but Griffith was left behind according to the manager of Insight Radiology Alan Pham.
"Wagga has two bulk billing licences but only one MRI machine which is infuriating because I want nothing more than to bulk bill for our patients and they've got a licence they're not using," Mr Pham said.
"We already charge 25 per cent less than what Medicare would pay under the bulk billing system and we've made a firm commitment that if we got a licence we would not charge a gap like they do in Wagga, meaning it would be free for everyone eligible for bulk billing.
“The girls at the front desk find it heart-breaking when they get calls from pensioners who say they will call back but never do after we tell them Medicare won’t cover them.”
Mr Pham said more than 63 per cent of Australians live within 10 kilometres of a Medicare-eligible MRI unit, whereas Griffith residents have to travel 180 kilometres to Wagga for the same service.
Patients at Griffith Base Hospital who require an MRI are sent to Insight Radiology but their costs are covered by the Murrumbidgee Local Health District – funded by state government.
The petition is available at 45 local businesses including all local GPs and pharmacies.