Member for Reid Fiona Martin, a psychologist, says it’s important to remove possible disincentives for women to have children.
“We want more Aussie babies to be born because it’s part of the economic recovery but also because we don’t have a huge population anyway so at a time like this we really need to be encouraging mums and supporting mothers,” she said.
Dr Martin presented a 13,000-strong petition to Parliament last week calling for the Medicare subsidy to be reinstated. In the same week, the Australian Society of Plastic Surgeons asked the Medical Services Advisory Committee to reconsider their case for a subsidy after it rejected their bid last November.
Nicola Dean, chair of the ASPS therapeutic procedures committee, says new research published during the 18-month application process wasn’t considered.
Mr Hunt guaranteed if the MSAC recommended a Medicare item or any additional support he would immediately list it.
“Birth trauma injury is a deeply important issue,” his spokesman said. “Minister Hunt knows that many Australian women experience significant damage and suffering.”
Dr Dean believes Medicare is “over-worried” there will be “thousands and thousands and thousands of claims”.
“In our experience … it’s only the ones who have got desperate functional problems that seek surgery,” she said.
“One of the problems is that abdominoplasty is seen as a tummy tuck. People find it difficult to separate out in their mind that there might be a legitimate, functional reason for needing that.”
The ASPS estimates 3500 women annually suffer moderate or severe abdominal separation and back pain and only a quarter would want surgery, costing taxpayers less than $440,000 a year.
Sydney woman Kerrie Edwards started the petition to Parliament after being quoted $20,000 to fix the abdominal separation that persists four years after her twin daughters were born. Without a Medicare item number, private health insurance won’t cover costs associated with the surgery.
“I’ve done everything I can through exercise and physiotherapy and there’s just nothing left for me to do except for the surgery and I don’t have $20,000,” Ms Edwards said.
“I’m struggling to pick up my kids because of my back pain. Even when I try and do other exercise I’m prone to injury … because I don’t have that core stability.”
Liberal MP Bridget Archer said she has an abdominal separation “that I can put my hand in” after having five children, the youngest of whom is now six years old. She’s been told she either needs abdominal surgery now or back surgery in the future.
“[These injuries] impact on their family life, their ability to work, their ability to participate in sports and participate in their communities,” she said.
Colleagues Katie Allen and Celia Hammond have also backed the push for greater support for women’s health, saying too many people suffer in silence.
The Australasian Birth Trauma Association says one in three mothers identify their birth experience as traumatic and one in four have a significant physical trauma.
It has a separate petition on change.org – now with more than 26,000 signatures – calling for Medicare-subsidised physiotherapy assessments of new mothers and sessions with women’s health specialists.
Co-founder Amy Dawes says there’s still a huge taboo around discussing the long-term problems from birth injuries, including incontinence and chronic pain, and there is no clear pathway to care.
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Katina Curtis is a political reporter for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, based at Parliament House in Canberra.