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Federal Treasurer Joe Hockey   Photo: International Monetary Fund

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By Genevieve Quilty
Chief Executive Officer
Optometry Australia

 

Tonight’s Federal Budget was largely without surprises from the profession’s perspective.

While we were disappointed not to see any move toward fairer Medicare rebates for optometric consultations, or reinstatement of Medicare indexation—and tonight released a media release to this effect—this was not unexpected. Health Minister Sussan Ley announced recently that the Government would undertake a comprehensive review of Medicare and indicated there would be little substantial change to current arrangements until the review had been undertaken.

Optometry Australia continues to lobby for the reversal of the rebate reduction and a lifting of the freeze on indexation to help ensure patient access to eye care and the sustainability of the profession. To achieve on this front, we will need to be persistent. We continue to call for your assistance with this important endeavour, and will soon be moving to the second phase of this campaign by launching a patient petition.

We welcomed the announcement of new Medicare items for optometrists to support patients in video consultations with ophthalmologists. Optometry Australia has long lobbied for this and recently supported the Lions’ Eye Institute in a formal submission to the Government for such items.

We believe this will support better access for patients in rural and remote areas to specialist eye care, and that such telehealth consultations benefit from the skills, expertise and technology of optometrists. We have already been consulting with the Government regarding the details of these items and will update members when further details are known.

Given the significance of small business to the profession, Optometry Australia has welcomed the announcement of the Government’s small business package which includes:

  • a 100 per cent tax write off for individual assets purchased costing less than $20,000 for small business (currently, the threshold sits at $1,000). Small businesses can apply this $20,000 rule to as many individual items as they wish. These arrangements are in place from now until the end of June 2017.
  • a tax rate cut of 1.5 per cent to 28.5 per cent for small companies with an annual turnover of less than $2 million
  • a five per cent tax discount to unincorporated businesses with annual turnover less than $2 million, from 1 July 2015 (capped at $1,000 per individual in an income year)
  • abolition of FBT on work-related small electronic devices.

We were also pleased to note in tonight’s Budget announcements that the listing on the PBS of ranibizumab (Lucentis), which can be prescribed by medical doctors only, will be extended to be accessible by patients with retinal vein occlusion and diabetic macular oedema. Government estimates suggest this new listing will assist around 18,000 patients who, without treatment, risk vision loss and blindness.

The Government has also announced it will realise savings by rationalising and streamlining funding across a range of health programs including by streamlining health workforce scholarships. We will be seeking further details as soon as possible as this level of detail is not yet available.

We will provide further information on these Budget measures via Australian Optometry and our fortnightly eNews to members.

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