John McPherson faced with black death
- The suicide rate per 100,000 in Sydney is 5.3%. In the Northern Rivers it's 12.5%
- Avoidable cancer deaths per 100,000 people in the Northern Rivers is 103.7. In Sydney it's 95.1
- High risk alcohol drinkers in the Northern Rivers stands at 5.3%. In Sydney it's 4.8%
- 20.9% of the Northern Rivers population smoke. In Sydney that percentage is 17.5%
WHEN Federal Health Minister Sussan Ley said she would not give in to a pre-election "scare campaign" against a policy to scrap bulk billing incentives for pathologists, due to come into effect July 1, it was 57-year old John McPherson who was scared.
The Lismore man's only option is to take potentially toxic lithium to manage his cluster headaches. Without fortnightly blood tests he could "turn black and die".
The pensioner, who can no longer work as a journalist and lecturer due to the severity of his diagnosed condition, said without the regular blood tests, lithium could build up in his his blood.
"It happens quickly. If you go toxic it can make you lose your mind and after showing mental decline, within 24 hours, you could turn black and die," he said.
"I need to keep across the readings. But as a pensioner I won't be able to afford the 29 tests per year."
Pathology companies are threatening to introduce a $30 co-payment for all medical tests, including pap smears, MRIs and blood tests, if the government goes ahead with the cut.
Mr McPherson's cluster headache condition -- much more significant than migraines -- usually takes ten to 12 years to diagnose.
"The lithium reduces the pressure in the nerves. Rather than being six or seven headaches a day for a year on end, it brings that year to a shorter span and hopefully won't trigger off for a year or so. But I'll have them for the rest of my life. So I will need lithium monitoring for the rest of my life," he said.
"I'm about to go on my second program of lithium which is only used in extreme cases of this condition.
"Everything I do has to be inside because light is a trigger for this condition."
"When I saw the Federal Government has made a decision to stop bulk billing of blood tests and pap tests and MRIs, I realised the situation was going to be quite awkward on a pension," he said.
This week doctors at 5500 private collection centres began approaching their patients to sign a petition asking the Senate to block the cuts.
However, according to a new report from the Grattan Institute, taxpayers could save over $240 million a year if the government made pathology companies tender to provide testing services. According to the report, pathology companies now benefit from cheaper, automated testing .
Far from calling for an exemption for his specific case, Mr McPherson has instead called the cuts a war on women.
"Women will die because they will not get regular pap smears which can detect and prevent cancer. It's false economy.
"At cabinet level, did they have a document, which explored the impact of this policy in term of rates of mortality for women?" he said.
"And did they say we can accept that?" he said.
"Someone has made a decision here, without thinking of the broader impact of the community," he said.