By Skye Cappuccio
National Policy Manager
Genevieve Quilty was present at the health-focused Federal Budget ‘lock-up’ to hear the 2015-2016 budget details for the health portfolio.
Optometry Australia was pleased to note the announcement of new Medicare items to cover optometric consultations.
We have been actively pursuing these new items for some time and welcome this announcement as supporting affordable patient access to quality eye care. We continue to seek advice regarding item fees and finalised item descriptors.
The Federal Budget also included an announcement that the government intends to increase the number of sites at which service delivery is supported by the Visiting Optometrists Scheme. We continue to seek clarity regarding additional funding expected to be required to support such an expansion and the site selection process.
Through the Federal Budget the government also announced its intention to review the Department of Veterans’ Affairs allied health arrangements in consultation with provider groups. Optometry Australia is working to maximise this opportunity to emphasise the need for fairer consultation fees, the benefits of extending the range of services covered and opportunities to streamline processes.
The Australian Government is consulting on key elements to be addressed through the development of a National Diabetes Strategy. Optometry Australia has made a comprehensive submission to the consultation, emphasising the importance of facilitating better access to regular eye care for all patients with diabetes, including by increasing community awareness and highlighting opportunities to maximise the use of community based optometrists to ensure affordable, timely access to regular eye examinations for Australians.
Optometry Australia has put a submission to the Optometry Council of Australia and New Zealand’s consultation regarding draft revised standards for the accreditation of entry-level training courses.
We have emphasised the need for courses to ensure all students meet the entry-level competency standards defined by Optometry Australia on behalf of the profession, and to provide sufficient depth and diversity in clinical experience and patient management.
We have also argued that the standards must detail what evidence will be considered sufficient to demonstrate that standards have been met. This is important to ensure consistency and transparency, and to provide clarity to those involved in seeking course accreditation and to assessment teams involved in accrediting courses.
In mid-June, Optometry Australia will join representatives of the Department of Health and the Department of Human Services (Medicare) at the biannual meeting of the Optometric Benefits Consultative Committee. This is the primary forum through which key stakeholders discuss the appropriateness of existing MBS items for optometry.
We will embrace the opportunity to present evidence, from our survey of practices, of the impact of the patient rebate reduction on patients and practices, and to advise further on amendments we have sought to provide clarity to and enhance the schedule. We will also seek clarity regarding the new items announced through the Federal Budget.
In April, Health Minister Sussan Ley announced that the government would undertake a comprehensive review of the Medicare schedule, indicating it will be considering both the appropriateness and efficacy of items, and the concept of a Medicare fee for service payments, particularly to support chronic disease management.
From early discussions with the minister’s office and the Department of Health, Optometry Australia understands that optometry is unlikely to be an early focus of the review, which is expected to span at least 12 months.
To ensure Optometry Australia is optimally placed to actively participate in the review, we have written to Ms Ley expressing our willingness to provide advice and representatives, and are convening a small panel of experienced members to provide advice and support to help ensure we maintain a robust schedule that meets the needs of patients.
Genevieve Quilty attended the meeting of the ACCC’s Small Business Consultative Committee, at which a comprehensive review of Australian consumer law was foreshadowed. We will prepare a comprehensive response to the review.
Optometry Australia has also responded to the government’s calls for responses to the final report on the Competition Policy Review undertaken by Professor Ian Harper. We emphasised the need to maintain a commissioner role with a particular focus on small business.
We also reiterated points raised through our original submission to the review around the need for more focused policy to support fairer competition in relation to preferred provider arrangements and online selling of prescription optical appliances.