At a recent meeting of the AHPRA Professions Reference Group, Optometry Australia was briefed by Kim Snowball who has been appointed to undertake a three-year review of the National Registration and Accreditation Scheme. The review has a wide scope, looking at the effectiveness, key operational elements and efficiency of the scheme.
Optometry Australia has begun working on a submission that will strongly support continuation of the NRAS and an independent optometry board with predominant optometry representation, and stress the desirability for nationally aligned complaints mechanisms and the retention of optometric specific accreditation functions, currently performed by the Optometry Council of Australia and New Zealand (OCANZ).
Optometry Australia has joined the Optometry Board of Australia (OBA), University Schools of Optometry and the OCANZ, at a meeting of the OBA’s Optometry Regulatory Reference group.
We embraced this opportunity to raise concerns, also raised with Federal Minister for Education, Christopher Pyne, about the findings of the study we commissioned last year into the projected workforce supply and demand balance in optometry.
The study suggests that more students are being trained than demand for services requires. We also highlighted Optometry Australia’s revised entry-level competency standards for the profession, which are expected to inform entry-level courses.
Optometry Australia is also making a submission to the OBA’s public consultation on draft Guidelines for the regulatory management of registered health practitioners and students infected with blood-borne viruses.
While generally supporting the draft, we are questioning whether this is better positioned as a Standard and not a Guideline, and are seeking clarity on a number of issues.
Optometry Australia has received a response to its request to the government through the Optometry Benefits Consultative Committee to streamline elements of the optometric MBS, recost domiciliary loading items, and enable referral from medical doctors to also confer eligibility for item 10905, which currently requires a referral from an optometrist.
The Department of Health has made it clear that with few exceptions, it is currently unable to undertake amendments that would increase the overall MBS expenditure on optometry and that any such amendments would have to be balanced through changes to other items in the schedule.
In response, Optometry Australia is considering its advocacy approach and prioritising which MBS issues it will advocate for at a ministerial level. We will also continue to pursue new MBS items as appropriate through the Medical Services Advisory Committee, which we have been advised is not subject to the same level of budgetary constraint.
Optometry Australia continues to meet with and advocate to the Health Minister’s office and the Department of Health regarding the need to amend measures, announced through the Federal Budget, which will reduce the frequency with which patients under 65 years can access eye care under Medicare, and reduce the rebate that patients can access for optometry services.
Disappointingly, Health Minister Peter Dutton has been clear that he will not consider amending these measures until evidence of their negative effects can be shown. We expect these measures to come into effect from 1 January 2015, alongside positive measures to remove the fee cap and increase the frequency with which older Australians can access Medicare services.
Our lobbying efforts continue but have now shifted gear to focus on developing a proposal for an alternative scheme to help ensure that the reduction in rebate does not significantly reduce access to eye care for people in socially disadvantaged areas, and to secure opposition support to reverse the decision reducing the frequency with which many Australians can access eye care under Medicare.
We continue to advocate for improved engagement between aged-care providers and optometrists to help meet the eye and vision care needs of their residents and clients, and have initiated discussions with the Aged Care Quality Agency about opportunities to facilitate greater optometry access for aged-care residents.
Optometry Australia has formally advised the Department of Health of its concerns that the delay in contracting jurisdictional fund-holders, expected to take over management of the Visiting Optometrists Scheme from 1 January 2015, could adversely impact the scheme, patients and providers. We have encouraged a flexible approach that may be able to ensure continuity of services without putting at risk meaningful assessment of where services are needed.
Clinical practice costs
More than 100 optometrists running their own practices have provided data through a survey undertaken on our behalf by Kilham consultancy to help inform our understanding of the costs of providing Medicare services. The results, currently under analysis, will be key in supporting ongoing arguments for improved Medicare fees, and in informing recommended fee advice to members who, following the removal of the Medicare fee cap, choose to charge above the scheduled fee.
Rural optometrist and convenor of Optometry Australia’s Rural Optometry Group, Dr Philip Anderton, will join fellow members of the peak rural health advocacy body, the National Rural Health Alliance, for a four-day symposium discussing and agreeing to priority policy issues in rural health in late September. The meeting will include substantial time dedicated to advocating agreed policy priorities to federal politicians and decision-makers.