In the wake of the annual federal budget that did little to support eye health and as the federal election looms, Optometry Australia (OA) has called for a relatively small investment of AU$22.6 million over five years to start deflecting a looming eye health crisis.
With more than 13 million Australians reported to have one or more long-term eye conditions – with many undiagnosed cases – imposing an annual $16.6 billion economic burden on Australia, the organisation has called on the Australian Government to act with urgency.
From an economic perspective, over a five-year period, OA’s $22.6 million financial ask represents only $1.74 per person with a current long-term eye condition. It is a small cost to try and prevent vision loss costing Australia an estimated $83 billion over this same period.
OA’s President, Murray Smith said that eye health in Australia was at increasing risk with many Australians unable to access the timely eye care they need which combined with our ageing population, was putting continued pressure on an already over-stretched tertiary eye care system.
“A key part of the solution to ensure Australians have timely, affordable access to safe eye care is to make the best possible use of our highly skilled optometric workforce.
“We can do this by ensuring Australians, and particularly those with chronic conditions like diabetes, are encouraged to access regular eye examinations so eye disease, often asymptomatic in its early days, can be detected early and managed effectively.
“We also need to ensure that the skills of our optometrists are being used for the best benefit of the community. In Australia for instance, optometrists are unable to prescribe oral medications despite their counterparts in New Zealand, the United Kingdom and elsewhere doing so safely for many years,” Mr Smith said.
He added that in other countries optometrists are also used to support treatment for vision threatening diseases such as macular degeneration and diabetic eye disease which require ongoing monitoring and treatment.
“Conversely in many parts of Australia patients face significant issues accessing this type of ongoing care when more effective use of our skilled optometrists could help address this situation.
“Achieving this will require supportive funding and regulatory change,” Mr Smith implored. OA plans to spend the $22.6 million cash injection are as follows:
- $1 million over two years to pilot a collaborative care model involving optometry supporting the provision of ophthalmology-led care of patients with sight threatening age-related macular degeneration and diabetic macula oedema. Although these patients require regular treatment often administered by intravitreal injection, access can be difficult if ophthalmic care is not readily available due to location or cost. It is understandable that there is a 20% drop out rate in intravitreal injection treatment. OA is seeking Government support to establish a pilot that would allow patients in two locations – including a remote Indigenous community – to access this care through locally-based trained optometrists.
- $1 million over two years to increase payment to optometrists providing optometric domiciliary services in residential aged care. The current MBS rebate of $24.20 per visit is grossly inadequate and requires an increase to $85 per visit (note, this is per visit, not per patient). This would encourage more optometrists to provide domiciliary services for vulnerable older and immobile Australians.
- $1 million over two years to support the ongoing rollout of OA’s eye health awareness campaign, Good vision for life. Launched and in market since September 2016, this campaign has been instrumental in increasing public awareness of the importance of regular eye examinations.
- $1 million over two years to build broad health professional awareness of eye disease and the importance of timely eye examinations for patients with, or at risk of, chronic health conditions.
- $18.1 million over five years to better fund the Visiting Optometry Scheme (VOS) which delivers outreach services to remote and very remote locations and in particular, to First Nation People. VOS needs firmer financial support to allow for growth – OA estimates over 21,000 additional VOS-supported eye examinations are needed per annum.
OA has also called on the Australian Government to expediate a regulatory decision to allow optometrists the right to administer oral prescriptions for common eye conditions. Currently optometrists must refer patients to a medical practitioner or an ophthalmologist to administer the prescription resulting in the double-handling of patients through the health system and additional costs for the patient.
Annual Budget Does Little
According to OA, measures expected to positively impact optometry include access to the Government’s free Interpreting Services for allied health to support them in providing care to patients, $600,000 allocated to a scoping study to identify the need and opportunity to provide Auslan and spoken language services for patients who are deaf, and a relatively small investment in allied health digital readiness. The latter will see of $0.5 million allocated to work with the allied health sector to identify barriers to greater adoption of digital health tools.
Optometry practices with an annual turnover of less than $50m will be able to access a 20% deduction for the cost of external training courses delivered to their employees from budget night to 30 June 2024; and a 20% deduction for the cost of expenses and depreciating assets that support digital uptake, up to $100,000 of expenditure per year, until 20 June 2023. The temporary full expensing measure has not been extended beyond 30 June 2023.
Adapted with permission from Optometry Australia news articles.