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HomeminewsOptometry Australia Rises Up Against Frozen Medicare Rebates

Optometry Australia Rises Up Against Frozen Medicare Rebates

Medicare rebates for optometry services, along with services provided by other allied health practitioners, have been frozen by the Abbott Government until July 2018 on top of an almost 5 per cent rebate reduction effective 1 January 2015.

In a joint statement, the Hon. Tony Abbott MP Prime Minister, and the Hon. Peter Dutton MP, Minister for Health, said Medicare would not survive in the long term without changes to make it sustainable.

“In the last decade spending on Medicare has more than doubled from AU$8 billion in 2004 to $20 billion today, yet we raise only $10 billion from the Medicare levy. Spending is projected to climb to $34 billion in the next decade to 2024.

“In the last year alone, 275 million services were provided free to patients. That’s three out of every four Medicare services being bulk billed.
These changes will contribute more than $3 billion to the Medical Research Future Fund which will fund the research needed to find cures to the health problems of today.”

Optometry To Fight Back

With almost half of Australia’s population suffering from vision or eye health issues – and 80 per cent of these issues reportedly preventable or avoidable –Optometry Australia said the sector will fight back. “The optometry sector will be urgently pressing the Government to reconsider these measures so that optometrists can continue to provide the highest level of care to their patients,” said President of Optometry Australia Kate Gifford.

“The optometry sector already has a freeze on indexation of Medicare items that has been in place since 2012 and now the Government has extended this further. These additional freezes, coming on top of an almost 5 per cent rebate reduction effective 1 January 2015, have the potential to threaten access to essential preventative care within every Australian community.

Ms. Gifford acknowledged that the GP rebate cut announcement excluded the more vulnerable in the community, however she said the changes would make it harder for optometrists to bulk bill these patients.

“We believe that the Government is putting at risk access to eye care, particularly for socially disadvantaged communities and vulnerable populations. While these are often the groups that most need eye care, they are often least able to meet out-of-pocket health care costs. Yet the
Government’s changes make it increasingly unsustainable for practices to accept only the Medicare rebate as payment for their services. In real terms, these rebates keep reducing while patient servicing costs keep increasing. “With an ageing population, the need for ready access to optometry care will only increase”, she added.

Genevieve Quilty said she expects the number of optometrists who bulk bill is likely to decline. “Currently optometry has uniquely high bulk-billing rates, but we do expect this will change over time as it becomes unsustainable for practices to bulk-bill with ongoing reductions in fees in real terms. It’s difficult to quantify how many optometrists will change their billing practices. What the fees will be is a matter for each practice to determine. We are working with our members to support them set fees that meet the costs of providing clinical care.”

She said it is the Government’s obligation to fund sustainable eye health care and the Association’s responsibility, as the peak professional body for optometrists, to ensure that this occurs.

According to an Access Economics for Vision 2020 report (2009), the total economic cost of vision loss in Australia is estimated to be AU$16.6bn – this is up $6.8bn from when this study was last undertaken in 2004. This represents an average growth in the cost of vision loss of $1.36bn a year. Regular vision checks can help prevent vision loss.

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