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Asymptomatic people aged under 65 years will be able to access rebates for full eye examinations only every third year, instead of every second year, in another Federal Budget measure to reduce costs.

In a welcome development, asymptomatic patients aged 65 years and older will have yearly, rather than the current two-yearly access to Medicare rebateable comprehensive eye examinations.

Optometry Australia (formerly OAA) CEO Genevieve Quilty welcomed the move for government subsidisation of more frequent examinations in older people but said reduced access for younger patients was concerning.

‘There is good evidence for increasing the frequency of access to subsidised comprehensive consultations for those over 65 years, whether or not they have new symptoms,’ she said.

‘This is a welcome development for patients and the profession but we have concerns that reducing the frequency at which asymptomatic patients under 65 can access these consultations could have a negative impact, particularly in terms of preventative health care and early detection of conditions that can threaten sight.

‘We have raised these concerns with the Department of Health and will be continuing these discussions,’ Ms Quilty said.

‘The Budget measure is clear that the reduction in the frequency at which those under 65 can access subsidised comprehensive consultations applies to situations in which patients are asymptomatic.

‘How asymptomatic is defined will be important. This is a definition we are keen to work with the department in developing,’ she said.

Optometry Australia president Andrew Harris said that about 75 per cent of eye and vision problems in Australia were preventable with early detection by eye-care professionals such as optometrists, and called for a return to two-yearly, rather than three-yearly, subsidised checks for the under 65s.

‘Optometry requires an immediate return to 85 per cent government rebates for patients, adequate annual indexation of the MBS and a return to access to rebates every second year for full eye examinations for Australians under 65 years of age,’ he said.

Ms Quilty said the Budget threatened to negate the ability of optometrists to meet the growing eye-care needs of the community through an erosion of the Medicare investment in primary eye health and vision services.

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