Accessing health care for George Morrow is not just an appointment in town at the local doctor’s surgery.
Mr Morrow has to pack a bag and catch a plane to Sydney as he physically can’t drive the seven hours from his home-town of Bega.
It’s a routine Mr Morrow has down-pat as he’s had to make the trip 24 times ever since he was diagnosed with cancer two years ago.
Each time is has cost him up to $450.
On top of that he has to organise all his doctor’s appointments within a couple of days and sometimes he has to stay for periods of up to six weeks for treatment.
Mr Morrow is not alone.
Across regional NSW, more than 26,000 people a year travel long distances to undergo specialised medical care, using Isolated Patients Travel and Accommodation Assistance Scheme (IPTAAS) assistance.
Mr Morrow has applauded the simplification and the cutting of red tape of IPTAAS as it means he can continue to afford treatment.
“There is no major hit on credit card, if I did not have this assistance I would not have been able to get the whole treatment I’ve had as we are talking a lot of money,” Mr Morrow said.
“The financial support takes one big issue out of play during a stressful period as I get about 70 to 80 per cent refunded on travel and accommodation through IPTAAS.”
As part of the NSW Governments reforms to IPTAAS, patients travelling long distances for medical appointments will have their transport bills slashed as the NSW Government ends the co-payment saving up to $120 a year.
Health Minister Brad Hazzard said the change was all about easing the burden on regional, rural and remote NSW communities.
“We are simplifying processes and providing financial support at a time when patients understandably are concerned about their health,” Mr Hazzard said.
Parliamentary Secretary for Regional and Rural Health Leslie Williams said the subsidy scheme was being accessed right across NSW.
Not surprisingly Broken Hill topped the list of IPTAAS claims by postcode (May to September 2018) with 758 patient claims totaling $577,585.81, according to government figures.
It followed with Dubbo 379 patients ($295,969.68) and Tamworth 503 patients ($292,334.67).
“In places like Broken Hill, Dubbo and Tamworth we are seeing high rates of utilisation of IPTAAS. That’s why it’s there, to help when there’s a need for financial support. Now that we’ve reduced the red tape, we expect more people to claim the subsidy,” Mrs Williams said.
The changes include:
- Removing co-payments, saving people up to $120 a year.
- Subsidising the cost of booking fees when travelling by public transport or air.
- Removing the need for doctors to approve an application for financial assistance towards the cost of having an escort accompany a patient on all but air travel.
- Removing the need for medical specialists to sign the IPTAAS form to verify attendance at medical appointments.
The NSW Government’s annual funding for IPTAAS has more than doubled since 2011-12, from $12.2 million to $25 million in 2018-19.