By Rhiannon Riches
A decision to bite the bullet and change to private billing has been a smart choice for the partners of a Melbourne Bayside practice.
Optometrist Matthew Wells, a partner at Gutteridge, Douglas and Wells Optometrists in Hampton, said they decided to change billing structure two years ago.
‘We had been considering a change to private billing for some time but it seemed like a big change to make as we had been bulk-billing since optometry services were included under Medicare in the 1970s,’ Matthew said.
‘We were concerned about the impact such a change would have on our long-standing, loyal patient base who had been attending for their perceived “free” eye tests for many years.’
Matthew said they had had reservations about patients not attending for a review appointment, such as for a dilated fundus examination or visual field analysis, due to concerns about cost.
‘We decided to bite the bullet and change to private billing at the beginning of 2015. The significant drop in income that we were facing due to the government’s decision to reduce the Medicare rebate and the seemingly endless freeze on indexation were the clincher. It also gave us a good explanation for our patients when making them aware of the change to our billing,’ Matthew said.
He and his partners wished they had changed to private billing sooner.
‘Our patients have been very accepting of the change and our reasons for doing so. There has not been a decline in our patient numbers and we have found people are attending review appointments as scheduled,’ he said. ‘We still bulk-bill patients of limited means, at our discretion.’
Matthew said the partners agreed to initially set their fees at 100 per cent of the Medicare Benefits Schedule, and they increased their fees this year.
‘Our patients are told they will be out of pocket about $20 for their eye test. We use the Medicare Online claiming system where the Medicare rebate is paid directly into a patient’s account, once they have paid for the test,’ he said.
‘I recommend other optometrists to strongly consider private billing, supported by Medicare online claiming. Our patients respect the job we do and are happy to pay for their eye care. Initially, it took a minute or so to explain the fee change to our patients but two years later it takes no time at all.
‘New patients expect to pay and any existing patients are ready for it, too. The current Medicare rebate is not adequate remuneration for the great work we do. Happily, we have found our patients agree.’