Vic Park resident’s tummy tuck troubles to rumble on

Ruth Unni has a difficult choice to make regarding the abdominal surgery that would ease her pain.
Ruth Unni has a difficult choice to make regarding the abdominal surgery that would ease her pain.

ON July 5, the Southern Gazette published the plight of Victoria Park resident Ruth Unni who cannot afford to have a tummy tuck due to the $20,000 bill she could be slapped with if she went under the knife.

Her private health will not cover the surgery if it is not eligible for a Medicare rebate.

The surgery was recommended to ease her severe back pain, remedy an existing hernia and cyst and prevent future hernias by closing a 5cm muscle separation caused by a previous pregnancy.

However, the new Medicare criteria cater only for people who have been obese and have excess skin after losing a lot of weight.

New item numbers cover people who have had large tumours removed.

Federal Health Minister Sussan Ley failed to answer questions from the Gazette regarding calls by plastic surgeons for a review of the new Medicare criteria for tummy tucks.

From January 1, Medicare excluded post-partum women from item number 30177.

The Australian Society of Plastic Surgeons also claims its calls for a meeting with Ms Ley have been rebuffed.

The Society is lobbying for medically- indicated tummy tucks to somehow be covered again by Medicare.

It hopes Ms Ley will appeal the independent Medical Services Advisory Committee’s (MSAC) decision.

But a spokeswoman for the federal Department of Health told the Gazette if more evidence regarding abdominoplasty’s benefits becomes available then the MSAC processes or MBS Review Taskforce would be the most appropriate way to consider a case for a new item.

In a letter to Ms Ley and copied to Senator Michaelia Cash on May 6, Society councillor Daniel Kennedy described the Medicare changes in relation to item 30177 as a “major mistake on the part of the Health Department”.

In its letter, the Australian Society of Plastic Surgeons said the Lipectomy Review Working Group recommended post-partum women be included, but this was overruled at the MSAC level.

According to the MSAC website, there had been a large increase in claims for lipectomy services primarily performed on women aged 35-54 years, and research was of low level and quality, which did not provide sufficient information about the effectiveness, safety and quality of lipectomy.

Questions sent by the Gazette to the independent Medical Services Advisory Committee and Ms Ley were responded to by a spokeswoman for the Federal Department of Health, and were partly addressed.

“It is understandable that some patients may feel upset by the amendments to MBS-funded lipectomy services, but MSAC’s recommendations were based on the available evidence,” she said on July 20.

Ministerial staff met with the Society on January 21 but no meeting was arranged with Ms Ley.

The Gazette was told by the Minister’s office it sent a letter on June 20, in response to the Society’s calls for a review.

The Society’s James Savundra said plastic surgeons field complaints from deserving patients every day who could no longer have their divarcations repaired due to their loss of insurance status.

“There would be many thousands of Australian women facing this problem,” he said.

He strongly discouraged women travelling overseas for cheaper surgery.

“An abdominoplasty is a significant operation requiring a long recuperation and should never be combined with overseas travel,” he said.