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Why Are Women's Health Costs Considered Cosmetic?

There are concerns proposed changes to health insurance would leave women with breast cancer among those paying more for “basic” treatment.

The real question is what is the definition of 'cosmetic' when it comes to economically disadvantaging women.

Questions surrounding the gendered economics of government policy have once again been reignited.  

Health groups are calling on the federal government to consider the wider-reaching implications of changes to health insurance that could leave women with breast cancer among those paying more for “basic” treatment.

Plans are in place to standardise health fund cover into basic, bronze, silver and gold packages. 

There are concerns that  “cosmetic” procedures, including some breast cancer treatments such as breast and nipple reconstructions, would sit outside bronze and basic cover. 

Health Minister Greg Hunt’s Private Health Ministerial Advisory Committee is finalising the details of a plan to standardise health insurance. Source: AAP

The Cancer Council is among the groups that have contacted the committee with concerns the changes could lead to costlier and fragmented treatment.

“It seems to come into a concept of whether or not something is medically necessary -- and has to do with saving your life or improving your function,” Cancer Council CEO Professor Sanchia Aranda told ten daily.

It is understood the changes would see other types of cancer, including prostate cancer, covered under cheaper policies.

"Certainly these days, we would consider a reconstruction after a mastectomy as a basic part of care after what is already a brutal surgery.

“But our reading of the changes is that would be considered cosmetic and therefore restricted to gold cover.

“It’s concerning because it means people in those lower packages may not be able to undergo procedures like having their breast reconstructed with the same surgeon or at the same hospital without having to pay out of their own pocket."

A spokesperson for the health minister said final decisions “have not been made”.

Pushes to axe the tampon tax

The debate about whether health treatments or products are considered medically-necessary or cosmetic -- is not new.

Similar concerns are repeatedly raised over campaigning to rid women $30 million each year for buying tampons and sanitary pads.

The federal Opposition recently amped up its campaign to axe the so-called ‘tampon tax’ -- a ten percent goods and services tax on sanitary products, with state and territory leaders showing their support.

Last month, Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews and Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk signed a letter agreeing such products “should be considered essential health products -- and the tax system should recognise them as such”.

Previously, the government has repeatedly insisted the matter was one “for the states and territories”.