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By Natanael Bloch
Acting Communications Manager

The Federal Government has confirmed that from 1 July 2019 a 1.6 percent increase will apply to optometry items on the Medicare Benefits Schedule[1] ending the long-standing freeze on rebates for these items.

This indexation rate is consistent with that applied to all other MBS items that receive indexation from 1 July.

General Manager of Policy at Optometry Australia, Skye Cappuccio said that Optometry Australia is pleased indexation has been applied after almost seven years of rebate freeze.

‘During this period, we have consistently advocated for the reinstatement of annual indexation, and we are pleased to see indexation reinstated 12 months earlier than the Government’s 2020 timeframe. We believe the advocacy of Optometry Australia and the fact that we represent over 80% of optometrists, with many joining in our campaigning, gave us the powerful and influential voice to generate this early change’ she said.

Optometry items on the MBS have not been indexed since November 2012, with the then Government announcing a short-term freeze on Medicare indexation. This initial freeze turned into a long-term freeze  with further extensions applied by subsequent Governments. In 2017 the Government announced that a return to indexation of MBS items would be phased in over three years, with indexation of optometry items finally to be reinstated from 1 July 2019.

‘Whilst reinstatement of annual indexation is a positive step, patient rebates for optometry services remain well below the true cost of providing clinical care. As a result, we continue to advocate for a comprehensive reassessment of the scheduled fee for all optometry items on the MBS to help ensure primary eye care services can be provided in a sustainable way and be readily accessed across the community’, Ms Cappuccio added.

An area in which Optometry Australia is currently and actively advocating is the comprehensive review of optometry items within the MBS which commenced in late 2018.

‘We have formally responded to this review, met with the MBS Review Taskforce and in the last couple of months, replied to the taskforce’s initial recommendations. While we wait for their final recommendations to the Government on optometry items, we continue to advocate for changes to simplify and contemporize the schedule to support community access to the primary eye care they need’, Ms Cappuccio said.

[1] New fees are available in the 1 July 2019 schedule, which is accessible at the following link.

Timeline of events

November 2012: Medicare rebates for optometry last indexed before the freeze.

May 2013: Gillard Government suspends Medicare rebate indexation until 1 July 2014 to align indexation with 2014-15 financial year.

May 2014: Abbott Government announces freeze on indexation for MBS and DVA rebates for optometry services until 1 July 2016.

December 2014: Abbott Government announces an extension of the freeze on MBS rebates for optometry by another two years until 1 July 2018.

January 2015: Five per cent cut to MBS rebates for optometry services commenced. Fee cap lifted and optometrists allowed to determine their own fees.

May 2016: Turnbull Government extends the rebate indexation freeze to 1 July 2020

May 2017: Federal Budget announces that indexation of Medicare rebates for optometry services will be reinstated from 1 July 2019. The return to indexation of Medicare services will be phased in, beginning on 1 July 2017 with GP bulk-billing incentives. July 2018 will see the reinstatement of indexation of standard GP consultations and specialist attendances. Indexation of Medicare rebates for allied health follows in July 2019.

June 2019: Morrison Government has confirmed that from 1 July 2019 a 1.6 percent increase will apply to optometry items on the MBS

 

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