In the pipeline
We are developing a comprehensive suite of resources to support members to recognise opportunities and help minimise negative impacts on practices, associated with the Federal Budget measures affecting optometry items under Medicare. The resources are expected to be released in late September.
Work has progressed on a new statement detailing Optometry Australia’s position on which aspects of eye and vision health should be addressed as part of a standard comprehensive eye examination.
We are also engaging a small group of experts to support the development of a clinical guideline on paediatric eye care.
Optometry Australia has detailed its concerns about an emerging imbalance between trained optometrists and demand for their services, in a letter to Education Minister Christopher Pyne, and called for a reconsideration of the university funding model that has supported a significant increase in optometry students in recent years.
This submission was informed by a recent supply and demand projections study undertaken for us by Monash University, which predicts a significant oversupply of optometrists in coming decades. This issue has also recently been raised with Dr Andrew Southcott, a member of the government’s health policy backbench committee.
Andrew Harris and Genevieve Quilty have met with Health Minister Peter Dutton to discuss Optometry Australia’s response to the Federal Budget measures. They welcomed the lifting of the Medicare fee cap and the increased frequency with which those over 65 years of age can access a 10900, and detailed concerns regarding the expected impact of the reduced Medicare rebate and indexation freeze on the profession and particularly, sustainability of service provision in disadvantaged areas.
They presented the minister with a proposal for an alternative reform to the frequency with which asymptomatic patients can access eye care, which if accepted, would see Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, and those aged over 65 years, have annual access to a comprehensive eye examination under Medicare, regardless of symptoms, and those aged 40 to 65 years retain biennial access.
In follow-up communications with the minister, Optometry Australia demonstrated the sector’s support for this proposal and their concerns about the Budget measures, through letters of support from key stakeholder organisations. These issues have also been discussed at a recent meeting with the Greens’ health spokesman, Senator Richard Di Natale.
Alongside engagement with political decision-makers, Optometry Australia has continued to engage with the Department of Health to help ensure that the processes for introducing Federal Budget measures do not cause unnecessary bureaucracy for optometrists, and that the fee cap is effectively removed from 1 January 2015.
In response to Mr Dutton’s advice that there was no likelihood that the government would reverse its decision to reduce the Medicare rebate for optometry consultations to 80 per cent, Optometry Australia has begun work preparing 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.
In recognition that the reduced Medicare rebate will require patients to pay an additional fee simply to maintain the rate at which optometric services have been paid, Optometry Australia has begun lobbying for an amendment to bulk-billing arrangements that would enable optometrists to bulk-bill and charge an additional fee. This would reduce out-of-pocket expenses for patients and help mitigate some of the expected impact on access to services among low-income populations.
Optometry Australia has met with the office of the Veterans’ Affairs Minister Michael Ronaldson to discuss the impact of Federal Budget measures on the DVA schedule and to help guard against any unintended negative flow-on effects related to the reduction in the proportion of the rebate payable for Medicare consultations.
We have also laid out our concerns in a letter to Mr Ronaldson and met with the Department of Veterans’ Affairs to discuss these in greater detail.
This meeting also provided opportunity to agitate for progress on a delayed review of the optical appliance schedule and on a number of red tape issues previously flagged with the department. Optometry Australia understands that following a number of years of advocacy by the organisation, a new DVA optical adviser is to be appointed by August.
Indigenous eye health
Optometry Australia’s Christopher Poulter gave a presentation at an Aboriginal Eye Health Co-ordination workshop in late June, garnering support for our ongoing pursuit of subsidised spectacle schemes that work effectively for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians. Complementing this work, stakeholder meetings are planned in South Australia and Western Australia to secure support for an advocacy push for schemes to support access in those jurisdictions to needed glasses for indigenous people.