Marryanne Shin: I explain to my patients the changes that I think are the most tangible
By Patrick Hutchens
Marryanne Shin and Elias Harb are among the many optometrists across Australia who are collecting signatures for Optometry Australia’s petition calling for fairer Medicare rebates for optometry.
In June, Optometry Australia launched a petition to be signed by optometrists, their patients and members of the public, calling for a reversal of the five per cent cut to scheduled optometry items under Medicare and a reinstatement of annual indexation.
Optometry Australia is now approaching Members of Parliament who have an interest in community eye health to champion the cause and present the petition to parliament later in the year.
Ms Shin has a copy of the petition positioned at the front counter of her practice, I See Optical in Eastwood, NSW, and has collected about 60 signatures so far.
‘I own my own practice so it’s in my best interest to have a steady stream of income through Medicare because I don’t privately bill,’ Ms Shin said.
She sometimes finds it difficult to convey to her patients the impact of the Medicare changes that came into effect in January and why they pose a threat to the sustainability of optometry.
‘The main obstacle I’m finding is explaining the whole process in a way that clearly demonstrates the cause is dire,’ she said.
Her patients predominantly have a Korean background and she often has to explain to them in the Korean language the changes to Medicare that she thinks are most tangible.
Ms Shin has also written letters to her local Members of Parliament, John Alexander and Alex Hawke, about the Medicare changes. Both MPs responded with identical letters from the Minister for Health Sussan Ley, outlining the government’s position.
In the letters, Ms Ley acknowledged Ms Shin’s concerns regarding the changes made to optometric services under Medicare, but also highlighted the ballooning costs of Medicare over recent years compared to revenue that had been collected through the Medicare levy.
Optometrists have answered Optometry Australia’s call for members to write to MPs about fair and equitable access to optometry services.
Ms Shin bulk-bills all her patients and has been feeling the financial impact of the changes since the beginning of the year.
Elias Harb: If patients want us to continue bulk-billing, they need to sign
Elias Harb, who owns Eyecare Plus in Kingsgrove, NSW, has taken a very direct approach to encouraging his patients to sign the petition.
‘I’ve basically told them that if they want us to keep bulk-billing, they will need to sign this petition. A lot of the time I don’t go into any more detail than that,’ he said.
He has collected about 50 signatures so far and is keeping the petition in his consulting room.
Mr Harb estimates that his practice has suffered a decrease in revenue of more than six per cent compared with earnings last year.
‘I don’t like the way things are heading. Having been established only a year and a half, this is basically a do or die moment. I need as much support as possible,’ he said.
Mr Harb is encouraging friends and colleagues to collect signatures for the petition. ‘We need to find a way to convince all optometrists, not just practice owners, to get involved,’ he said.
The petition and practice poster can be accessed on the Optometry Australia website.