Optometry Australia (formerly OAA) expects a reduction in bulk-billing will occur by optometrists trying to make up for lost income due to another MBS indexation freeze announced in the Budget.
From 1 July 2014, all Medicare Benefits Schedule items including optometric items but excluding GP items will not be indexed for two years.
Optometry Australia CEO Genevieve Quilty said the organisation had estimated that the loss in terms of the government rebate from the indexation freeze alone would be about $1.20 less on a 10900 rebate in the first year, and $2.40 less in the second year.
‘That was if we assumed the rebate remained at 85 per cent, which it won’t,’ she said.
‘If we also consider the reduction in the rebate to 80 per cent, we estimate the reduction in the government contribution will be around $4.70 less in 2015 and could be close to $6 less in 2016, for a standard 10900.’
She stressed these were only estimates as the assumptions were based on the level that indexation might have been.
‘Coming on top of the freeze in indexation that has been in place since November 2013, this will mean close to three years in which MBS fees for optometry services are not adjusted in any way to account for ongoing increases in costs of care,’ she said.
‘We will continue to make clear to the government the risks in paying optometrists less when they have been providing increasingly sophisticated care.
‘On top of this, the government has reduced the proportion of the scheduled fee they will pay (from 85 per cent to 80 per cent).
‘For many optometrists this is likely to mean that they will need to reconsider their approach to billing. We expect we will see a reduction in bulk-billing, which is currently much higher for optometrists than any other profession.’
Ms Quilty said MBS indexation had been consistently below CPI for many years, so MBS fees for optometry services were already significantly less in real terms than they were in the mid-1990s. ‘This further compounds this discrepancy,’ she said.
The government said savings from pausing indexation of thresholds and rebates would go to the new Medical Research Future Fund to fund research for decades into diseases including dementia, cancer, heart disease and diabetes.