Industry subsidy scheme continues for diagnostic imaging costs for Victorian racehorses

Racing Victoria (RV) on Tuesday announced the continuation of its industry leading Diagnostic Imaging Subsidy Program following a successful 10-month pilot, which provides Victorian racehorses access to advanced injury-preventing veterinary technology.

The Diagnostic Imaging Subsidy Program – colloquially known as ‘Medicare for Horses’ – was introduced in June 2021 to take a proactive approach to racehorse injury prevention, with the aims to achieve early detection and intervention and minimise the risk of serious injury to Victorian racehorses.

The continuation of the subsidy program comes after the resounding success of the pilot program, which saw over 130 horses scanned, with nearly 40 per cent of those found to have potentially serious injuries not perceptible without diagnostic imaging technology. 

Similar to Medicare, the subsidy helps remove the financial barrier to access advanced diagnostic imaging by recovering 50 per cent of costs – creating a potential saving of $1,600 per scan for Victorian racehorse owners and trainers.

A $300 specialist assessment subsidy upon referral by a vet to one of the subsidy’s three participating practices is also available for owners and trainers, as well as a $200 subsidy for a racehorse requiring hospitalisation for a minimum of one overnight stay.

For an owner or trainer to take advantage of the subsidy, their racehorse must be listed as active or spelling on their stable return and have been domiciled in Victoria for a minimum of three months prior to applying for the subsidy.

The racehorse must also undergo a lameness examination by the owner or trainer’s private vet. If the horse presents with lameness then it can be considered for the subsidy. A specialist vet will review the results, as well as the horse’s history and – in consultation with the referring vet – determine if and what advanced diagnostic imaging is required.

As part of the subsidy scheme, scintigraphy (bone scanning), Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI), and Computed Tomography (CT) are available year-round for eligible Victorian racehorses at three of Victoria’s prominent equine practices.

The service offerings from the participating equine practices are as follows;

U-Vet Werribee Equine Centre – Scintigraphy, MRI (high field), CT (standing)
Ballarat Veterinary Practice Equine Clinic – Scintigraphy, MRI (standing)
Goulburn Valley Equine Hospital – Scintigraphy

The subsidy program will also benefit from the State Government’s recent announcement that a second standing CT scanner and Positron Emission Tomography (PET) scanner will be operational in Victoria from 2023 – improving the capacity of the program to reach more racehorses across the state.

The Diagnostic Imaging Subsidy Program is made possible by the Victorian racing industry’s equine welfare fund, which includes a two per cent prizemoney contribution by racing participants.

“We are really pleased by the uptake of this program. The pilot was well supported by a spread of trainers and owners, and it is great that we can continue supporting Victorian racehorses year-round with cost effective access to advanced diagnostic imaging," said RV General Manager Veterinary Services, Dr Grace Forbes.

“Of the more than 130 horses scanned during the pilot program, around 40 per cent were found to have some form of fracture or pod lesion. These injuries were successfully identified early through diagnostic imaging, meaning the horse could be treated pre-emptively, allowing the appropriate care and recovery to take place to help avoid a potentially serious injury occurring in the future.

“The introduction of a second standing CT scanner and a PET scanner in the next 12 months will boost the capacity of the subsidy program to allow more Victorian racehorses to access these advanced diagnostic imaging tools to take a proactive approach to injury prevention.

“And while the benefits for horses currently racing are obvious, injury minimisation through the use of diagnostic imaging can also have a positive impact on the second career prospects of retired racehorses.

“The subsidy is also helping us develop a deeper understanding of lameness in racehorses and contributing to our research with the University of Melbourne into limb injury prevention.”

An indicative cost breakdown, subject to change and a guide only, of the diagnostic imaging options (before the 50 per cent subsidy is applied) available as part of the subsidy program offered by RV:

Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI):

What: MRI uses magnetic fields and resistance to create high-quality three-dimensional images of bone, fluid and soft tissue. MRI shows an image of the physical change occurring during injury or disease. Multiple images are collected of the area of concern. All standing MRI units are low-field, so those images have less detail than high-field MRI and CT.
Where: Ballarat Veterinary Practice Equine Clinic (Standing Procedure) or U-Vet  Werribee (High-field MRI with General Anaesthesia).
How much (full fee): High-field MRI: up to $3,200 and Standing MRI: $2,995.

Scintigraphy (bone scan):

What: The patient is injected with a radioactive substance and a few hours later a gamma camera records which areas of the body have increased uptake of the radioactive substance. These areas are commonly known as hot spots—areas of increased bone activity (or soft tissue inflammation or cell turnover).
Where: Ballarat Veterinary Practice Equine Clinic, Goulburn Valley Equine Hospital or U-Vet Werribee.
How much (full fee): Up to $3,000.

Computed Tomography (CT):

What: The standing CT scanner for horses allows efficient three-dimensional imaging of the lower limb and identification of otherwise undetected bone damage. It is essentially cross-sectional radiographs and very useful, providing excellent, high-detailed images for bone and fair to good images for soft tissues. Images can be viewed in multiple planes and at multiple angles. The quality and contrast of images created by CT is far superior to standard x-ray.
Where: U-Vet Werribee.
How much (full fee): Approximately $1,200 - $2,000*.

* Already partially subsided by RV and the State Government via investment in the Equine Limb Injury Prevention Program.