By Helen Carter
Optometry Australia’s submission to the Federal Budget includes five recommendations totalling approximately $13.7 million in 2020-2021 which would generate a positive and almost immediate impact on the eye health of millions of Australians and reduce the social and economic burden of vision impairment.
The submission, entitled Investing in comprehensive eye care for all Australians, has been uploaded to our website.
It calls on the Government to:
- Reinstate biennial Medicare rebates for a comprehensive initial examination for Australians aged between 45 and 64 years, given the increased risk of developing ocular disease – most of which is more effectively managed with early detection. This would cost $9 million in 2020-2021.
- Ensure access to sustainable and timely outreach eye care by expanding the Visiting Optometrists Scheme (VOS) to deliver an additional 31,500 outreach optometry services. This access is key to reducing avoidable blindness in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and rural and remote communities. ($7.84 million over three years from 2020-2021.)
- Match the one-off funding already committed by Optometry Australia to support 2020: The year of good vision for life. ($460,000 in 2020-2021.)
- Support ongoing access to sustainable eye care by investing in applied research into models to enhance integration of optometric care into primary care and facilitate collaboration with tertiary eye care services. ($1.5 million in 2020-2021.)
- Initiate a comprehensive, independent review of the Medicare fee schedule, to ensure alignment with the true cost of providing care.
The submission states that the measures outlined are vital to ensure access to quality eye care is maintained for all Australians, particularly those who need it most.
The call to reinstate biennial Medicare rebates for middle-aged people is part of the Medicare Benefits Schedule (MBS) Review and analysis of services provided under the Optometrical Services Schedule which we welcome and are participating in.
‘In 2009, there were 575,000 Australians over age 45 with some form of vision impairment or blindness. That is expected to increase to over 800,000 by 2020,’ the submission states.
‘Ninety per cent of vision impairment is avoidable or treatable and the rate of return on investment in primary eye health and vision care is significant.’
Recommendation four – future-proofing the sustainability of primary eye care – quotes our Optometry 2040 project, which says that we anticipate the growth of ‘partici-patients’, supported by optometrists working in collaborative professional patient relationships.
‘To facilitate this, optometry services will no longer be solely offered through face-to-face interaction, but instead facilitated by technology and available to consumers in a range of different ways.
‘This includes virtual consultations and digital health monitoring via wearables.
‘Increased collaboration with other clinicians is expected to be common and care models will be more diverse.
‘It is likely that the traditional retail arm of many optometry practices will no longer exist. The digital marketplace and clinical options to address refractive error will result in demand to purchase prescription glasses to virtually disappear.’
This recommendation seeks funding for two research projects into models to enhance integration of optometric care into primary care and facilitate collaboration with tertiary eye care services.
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