Malcolm Turnbull

Win on medical tests but not scans

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull.

The federal government will postpone making changes to bulk-billing incentive payments for pathology services for three months.

While patients will continue to be bulk-billed for pathology tests people could still be left hundreds of dollars out of pocket for x-rays and scans.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has called a truce with pathologists over changes to bulk-billing incentive payments which were due to come into force from July 1.

They were slated to save the budget $650 million over four years.

Pathologists and diagnostic imagery specialists were up in arms, saying they could not absorb the costs and would have to pass them on to patients.

There were fears this could cost lives if people skipped tests and diseases weren't picked up early.

Mr Turnbull told reporters in Sydney on Saturday there will be a three-month delay on the implementation of the changes for pathology until the federal government can pass legislation to make rent cheaper for collection centres.

The Royal College of Pathologists of Australasia backs the plan.

"This will result in the profession maintaining the current billing practices and high quality services and efficiencies offered," according to president Michael Harrison.

But the Australian Medical Association is dubious.

"Cuts to pathology bulk billing incentives only deferred by months. No guarantee bulk billing rates for path won't change. Disappointing for patients," president Brian Owler tweeted.

The doctors' group is set to launch a protest blitz against an ongoing Medicare patient rebate on Sunday.

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten is also sceptical of the pathologist deal.

"Mr Turnbull was dragged kicking and screaming to a bandaid fix," Mr Shorten told reporters in Brisbane on Saturday.

"He was not up front with the Australian people."

Labor says the deal does not apply to diagnostic imaging such as x-rays, magnetic resonance imaging (MRIs), positron emission tomography (PET) scans and mammograms and patients could therefore be left with hundreds and possibly thousands of dollars in up-front costs.

A spokesman for Health Minister Sussan Ley said discussions with the diagnostic imaging sector were ongoing.

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