Expensive COVID-19 test requirements could be scrapped as Queensland reviews the boundary rules

The Queensland government is reviewing border requirements, which currently see families facing paying hundreds of dollars for COVID tests when they enter the state.

Queensland is just a few weeks away from reopening to people from interstate hotspots, with state borders set to open when 80 percent of Queenslanders aged 16 and over are fully vaccinated.

Based on the latest figures, it may be between December 6 and December 12.

According to the state government’s roadmap, all new arrivals must be double-vaccinated and have had a negative COVID-19 polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test within 72 hours prior to arrival in Queensland.

PCR tests are only available at private pathology clinics and cost around $ 150.

Tests are free for people with COVID-19 symptoms, but Medicare rebates are not paid for tests performed for domestic or international travel purposes.

That means a family of four traveling to Queensland over Christmas, for example, could be hit by a $ 600 bill.

The Commonwealth should pay for tests, says the Deputy Prime Minister

Steven Miles stands in front of children's characters at Sea World.
Deputy Prime Minister Steven Miles suggested that Medicare should cover the cost of the tests.(ABC News: Kimberley Bernard)

When Queensland’s Deputy Prime Minister Steven Miles was asked if he thought $ 600 was a deal-breaker for most families, he said he had “no excuses” for keeping Queenslanders safe.

“The fact is that getting vaccinated and having a negative test will help us control the arrival of the virus to Queensland,” he said.

“This is a really important step, this is a really significant easing of restrictions.”

Sir. Miles said all tests should be covered by Medicare.

“The reason these tests can not be provided for free is because Medicare requires that for a discount, tests must be medically necessary,” he said.

“I urge the Commonwealth to consider that these tests are part of our broader health response and should therefore be eligible for a Medicare rebate.”

A spokesman for Federal Health Secretary Greg Hunt said Queensland “walked away” from its responsibility to pay for pathology.

“Under the agreement in the National Cabinet, COVID-19 testing for asymptomatic individuals (including domestic travel in Australia) is a joint responsibility of the Government of Australia and State,” the spokesman said in a statement.

The National Partnership on COVID-19 Response, signed by all governments, includes a 50% funding contribution from the Australian Government for COVID-19 testing.

“The Commonwealth funds 100 percent of Medicare-funded tests and 50 percent of state-based tests.

“It is surprising that Queensland is seeking to move away from their responsibilities and their own decision and reduce their own COVID security spending.

“The Commonwealth has spent over $ 1.87 billion on pathology testing throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. We would like Queensland to announce their investment in pathology.”

The government is “actively considering” changes to the test requirement

Acting Chief Health Officer Peter Aitken said the Queensland government was considering scrapping the test requirement or doing the test for free.

“We work through the details … we recognize [there will be] huge challenges for people, “said Dr Aitken.

“We’re looking at it, there may be no test, there could be a free test, we do not know at the moment.

“We talk to New South Wales, we talk to other colleagues and we let you know when there is a decision.

“For people being tested where there are no symptoms, there are different schemes for different states, and the Commonwealth and different pathology providers determine some of those costs. It’s something we have to work through,” he said.

Special events possible for border communities

New South Wales’ cross-border commissioner is urging the Queensland government to spare residents in the border zone the hundreds of dollars they have to pay for COVID-19 tests each week, just to cross the border to work.

Dr. Aitken said there would be fewer test requirements for fully vaccinated Queenslanders entering the border zone and for NSW border bubble residents entering Queensland for non-essential purposes.

“It’s one of the things we’re looking at,” he confirmed.

“When we reach the 80 per cent [full vaccination mark] … the requirements for the people living in the border zone and the requirements for testing, that’s something we’re actively looking at. “

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Rapid antigen tests may be used in the future

A spokesman for Queensland Health said rapid antigen testing could be accepted as an alternative to PCR testing sometime in the future.

Fast antigen tests are much faster and easier to perform, but are not as sensitive as PCR tests.

“PCR testing will continue to be the preferred testing method,” the spokesman said.

“[They are] efficient, reliable and accurate… and can be reversed the same day, depending on the amount of testing performed.

“Rapid antigen testing for specific cohorts and specific test situations may be considered in the future.”

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