VOS optometrist Cameron Graco
By Rhiannon Riches
A small group of Queensland optometrists taking part in the Visiting Optometrists Scheme met with the state’s new fund-holder in late June, just days before it took over administration of the fund on 1 July.
Cairns-based optometrist and private pilot Cameron Graco, who flies to islands dotted along the coast in far north Queensland as part of the VOS, was one of nine optometrists who attended the meeting with the new fund-holder, CheckUP, in Brisbane.
Optometry Queensland/Northern Territory CEO Cathryn Baker also attended.
Ms Baker said comment from optometrists who were at the meeting had been positive, a reflection of the shared sense that CheckUP was a responsive and approachable organisation with a proven history of managing outreach services.
‘Our Queensland VOS optometrists feel like they are in safe hands,’ she said.
The Australian Government announced in early 2014 that new jurisdictional fund-holders would replace the previous federal administration of the program.
The appointment of fund-holders had been delayed twice and it remained unclear whether funding levels would be maintained.
The intention was for funding to transition to jurisdictional fund-holders in mid-2014 but contracts for the VOS were instead extended until 31 December 2014.
Jurisdictional fund-holders were expected to take over management of the VOS from 1 January 2015 but this was again delayed six months to 1 July.
Mr Graco said that following the meeting with CheckUP, he was optimistic that the VOS services would be funded at the same or similar level as under the federally-administered program.
He said that CheckUP wanted to ensure that optometrists participating in the VOS would be able to continue visiting their respective areas.
Mr Graco said CheckUP wanted the new contracts to be issued by 1 July so that services could continue uninterrupted.
‘The reason why it took so long for CheckUP to let us know what was happening was because of the lateness of contracts issued by the health department,’ he said.
‘CheckUP has been a fund-holder for various other organisations related to Indigenous health care. The new system has more than enough funds to continue the existing services and even additional funding for new locations.’
Mr Graco said the items that VOS optometrists could claim with the new fund-holder had all been retained from the previous federally-administered scheme, although the amounts they could claim had been modified due to inflation.
‘There are two additional items that we can claim that were not available under the old scheme. One is an upskilling allowance, for instance, if an optometrist spends time educating other health practitioners or nurses.
‘Another item that can be claimed is if a particular location is poorly attended, the practitioner can forgo claiming any Medicare rebates and be paid a flat rate to cover the time spent there,’ he said.
Mr Graco said he spoke one-on-one at the meeting with a representative from CheckUP, providing information about his services.
‘They needed quite a bit of detail as very little information was released to them by the Department of Health due to privacy laws. CheckUP needed to get a sense of what locations we visit and how often, and approximate costs, so they can then put forward a business plan to an independent committee.
‘Once the committee agrees to what CheckUP has put forward, they can give us all individual contracts agreeing to how much we will be paid for any given circuit.
‘Once we do a circuit or location visit, then it’s a matter of filling in an online claim form. This will generate an invoice and we were told that payment would be received in two to three weeks,’ he said.