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Wednesday / June 19.
HomeminewsAt Last! Cataract Rebate Agreement

At Last! Cataract Rebate Agreement

After months of insults, accusations and general wrangling, the dispute between the Federal Government and eye surgeons over cataract surgery rebates has been resolved.

The Senate twice blocked the Government’s efforts to cut the rebate, but a compromise on its controversial plan to slash the Medicare rebate on cataract surgery by 50 per cent has been reached and the Government has agreed that instead of halving the rebate, it will only be cut by 12 per cent. The back down is in response to fierce resistance from eye surgeons, the elderly and the Opposition.

The Minister for Health, Nicola Roxon, announced the Medicare fee would be cut by 12 per cent instead of the 50 per cent originally planned. The deal was struck with the Australian Society of Ophthalmologists, which had agued that its members would not be able to afford to operate on public patients.

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Under the compromise the Medicare fee for the most basic cataract procedures – lens extraction and insertion of an artificial lens – will be AUD$731.80, of which the patient will get back AUD$475.68.

Under the compromise, the Medicare fee for the most basic cataract procedures – lens extraction and insertion of an artificial lens – will be AUD$731.80, of which the patient will get back AUD$475.68.

The Opposition health spokesman, Peter Dutton, described the compromise as a humiliating back down but said the Coalition would support it when the legislation was reintroduced.

“Thousands of elderly Australians who underwent cataract surgery in the last three months have been forced to pay hundreds of dollars more for treatment,” he said.

Ms Roxon also announced a freeze on indexation of cataract items under the Medicare Benefits Schedule until November 2011 and a review of all ophthalmology items under the schedule. The Government will also spend AUD$5 million over four years on eye health for rural Australians.

She said the changes would still save AUD$47 million; the original target being AUD$98 million.

Ophthalmologist, Dr. Bill Glasson, who was prominent in the battle against the original Medicare rebate plan was pleased with the new rebate saying he wanted to: “thank the Minister and the Government of the day for bringing that figure up, because I keep saying that this rebate is the patient’s insurance scheme and therefore this is to support patients and the services they need and deserve around this country”.

Dr. Glasson said he hoped private health insurance companies would try to ensure that the cataract patient still did not have to pay a gap.

“But for those who don’t have insurance then there’ll be a slight increase in the gaps they are paying but certainly a significant improvement on where we started in October of last year,” he said.

Dr. Glasson implored ophthalmologists to accept the Medicare rebate as full payment for indigenous patients and those from remote areas, adding that he was confident they would do so and would continue to provide the vital services that remote areas needed so badly.

AMA President, Dr. Andrew Pesce, congratulated the Government and the Australian Society of Ophthalmologists on a mutually satisfactory outcome from their negotiations over changes to the Medicare rebate for cataract surgery.

Dr. Pesce said that the resolution was, above all, a win for patients and a great relief for the thousands of people around the country who had faced uncertainty over their sight-saving operations.

“The successful outcome over this issue confirms the AMA view that there must be expert clinical input at the beginning of the process of making changes to Medicare rebates, not after the event,” Dr. Pesce said.

“It is commonsense to talk to the doctors who perform the procedures every day before making policies that affect how they care for their patients. To her credit, Health Minister Roxon worked closely with the ophthalmologists to reach an agreement.

“We welcome the new AUD$5 million outreach fund for cataract treatment in rural and indigenous communities,” Dr. Pesce said.