Kate Gifford, National President, Optometry Australia
Canberra, Tuesday 12 May 2015. The eye health needs of thousands of Australians have been ignored in the 2015 Federal Budget with the Government’s failure to provide any Medicare relief for optometric services.
Kate Gifford, the Chair of Optometry Australia, the national professional body for optometrists, expressed her disappointment with the Australian Government’s decision to ignore calls to reverse cuts to the optometric Medicare rebate.
‘A five per cent cut to Medicare rebates for optometric consultations has been in place since 1 January 2015. Combined with the freeze on Medicare indexation to July 2018, the cut is threatening the sustainability of optometric services, particularly those located in areas of socio-economic disadvantage.
‘Despite our ongoing calls for smarter investment in optometry under Medicare, the Budget has failed to provide the necessary relief for optometrists and their most vulnerable patients.
‘The recent cuts to optometry under Medicare are impacting thousands of Australians most at disadvantage such as pensioners, health card holders, those on low incomes, children and people living in residential aged-care facilities. We are greatly concerned that the Government’s reduced investment in Medicare is deterring many of these patients from seeing an optometrist when they need to.’
There was a win for optometrists and patients in rural and remote areas with the Government extending eligibility for the use of telehealth services under Medicare to optometrists, to support the use of video consultations with ophthalmologists.
‘We know that people living in regional and rural areas have higher unmet need for eye care than those living in metropolitan regions and so extending telehealth services under Medicare to optometrists is a logical step to support better access and co-ordination of eye care services. Despite this welcome addition under Medicare, the Budget has failed to deliver the necessary significant investment required to ensure optometric care is accessible and sustainable for all Australians into the future.
‘When you consider that 80 per cent of all vision impairment is preventable or treatable, we continue to question why the Australian Government has ignored our calls to help us to reduce this damning statistic,’ Mrs Gifford said.
Optometry Australia has been calling on the Government to reverse the five per cent cut to the optometric rebate, at minimum for socio-disadvantaged Australians. ‘The Government appears blind to the needs of these Australians. Instead of discouraging, it should be encouraging Australians to see an optometrist regularly in order to help reduce the $1.36 billion that vision loss costs the Australian economy annually,’ Mrs Gifford said.
Mrs Gifford said that Optometry Australia was also disappointed that the Government had maintained the freeze on Medicare indexation to July 2018. ‘Based on the demographic profile of their communities, many optometrists in disadvantaged regions rely heavily on bulk-billing to ensure there is access to crucial preventative eye health and vision care in their communities. The Government has effectively frozen these optometrists’ income until 2018 without regard to increased cost of providing quality optometric care.’
The optometry sector has been providing timely and affordable access for all Australians to eye care services under Medicare since 1975, playing a crucial role in preventing, detecting and managing eye and vision conditions.
‘Increasing barriers are now threatening this role and we can only hope that the review announced recently by Senator Ley will in fact deliver a healthier and fairer Medicare for optometry.
‘Optometrists simply want these removed so that every Australian has equitable access to optometric services,’ Mrs Gifford said.
For more information on optometry services in Australia, visit www.optometry.org.au.
Richard Amos, Royce Communications – 0418 344 978; Tony Faccenda, Royce Communications – 0411 231 433
Optometry Australia is the peak professional body for optometrists. Representing more than 90% of all Australian-based optometrists Optometry Australia’s focus is to lead and advance the profession of optometry by putting eye-health front and centre of Australian health care.