Incontinence treatment must be given Medicare support

Thursday 31 January 2013


The Australian Physiotherapy Association (APA) has made a pre-budget submission calling for the federal government to introduce a specific Medicare item for continence physiotherapy.

Incontinence is a physically and psychologically debilitating condition that affects nearly 4.6 million Australians; this figure is estimated to rise to more than 6.4 million by 2030.

‘People with incontinence invariably suffer unnecessarily in silence,’ APA President Marcus Dripps said. ‘The condition significantly impacts on an individual’s quality of life, causing them to withdraw from participation in their work and communities.’

‘The estimated economic impact of incontinence is huge but there are many avenues of help available, including a continence management program from an appropriately qualified physiotherapist funded through the Medicare Benefits Scheme.’

Currently there are no specific Medicare items for continence physiotherapy and only limited ways in which patients can access public funds for this type of treatment.

The APA believes that while some patients will ultimately require surgical intervention, from a cost perspective, physiotherapy should be the first line of treatment as many will respond and therefore not require surgery.  

An Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health study* has shown that physiotherapy techniques can help up to 84 per cent of women suffering from stress urinary incontinence (SUI) to achieve continence, a success rate equal to surgical techniques, without the inherent risks of surgery.


The study found that most SUI patients only needed five physiotherapy treatments on average to effectively alleviate their incontinence.

Data analysis by the APA found that physiotherapy treatment costs the patient approximately $500, while surgical management costs between $7820 and $10260.

‘Without a specific Medicare item for physiotherapy management of continence issues, many patients end up being significantly out of pocket,’ Mr Dripps said. ‘Access to timely treatment can also lead to long-term, significant savings to the Australian health system.’

The APA believes that the Department of Health and Aging and Medicare should have mechanisms in place to consider the burden of disease relating to conditions, as well as the treatment efficacy and cost effectiveness of any interventions. Funding should be directed towards appropriate treatments based on these considerations.

Medicare support for the management of incontinence is crucial, it will help millions of Australians to reclaim their quality of life,’ Mr Dripps said.

The submission is supported by the Continence Foundation of Australia.

Download the APA pre-budget submission 2013

For further information, please contact:
Erik Froese
Australian Physiotherapy Association
P: (+61) 3 9092 0829 M (+61) 457 963 675

* Neumann, P.B., et al., The costs and benefits of physiotherapy as first-line treatment for female stress urinary incontinence. Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health, 2005. 29(5): p. 416-421.

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