By Skye Cappuccio
Optometry Australia has written to the Treasurer and Minister for Health, detailing priorities in eye care that we believe must be addressed through the 2015-2016 Federal Budget. This submission to the Federal Budget is the first plank in a comprehensive advocacy campaign directed at supporting better access to eye care for disadvantaged communities.
Our submission focuses on actions needed to ensure optometry is accessible for all Australians and calls for:
- the Medicare rebate reduction exclusions proposed for medicine—which would see children, pensioners and concession card holders exempted from the rebate reduction—to be extended to optometry
- a return to fair indexation of patient rebates for optometric care
- an incentive program to support sustainable service provision in rural and remote areas
- greater financial support for domiciliary services
- further investment to support Indigenous access to optometric care and optical aids.
We learned in late December that the Medical Services Advisory Committee has recommended that our request for a new Medicare item to enable patients to access a rebate for removal of a corneal foreign body by an optometrist be supported, and the establishment of the item will be recommended to the Minister.
MSAC also supported an application made by the Centre for Eye Research and Evaluation for an item to support retinal photography of people with diabetes to be undertaken by a non-optometrist/medical specialist on behalf of an optometrist or GP in a primary care setting, provided no other item is co-claimed.
Optometry Australia has made a submission to the Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee, seeking an amendment to the conditions under which optometrists can prescribe anti-glaucoma medications under the PBS.
While OBA guidelines regarding optometry prescribing of anti-glaucoma medications have been amended and no longer require optometrists to work in shared-care arrangements to initiate treatment, these amendments are not automatically applied to the PBS prescribing conditions.
To prescribe anti-glaucoma medications under the PBS, currently optometrists must be working in a formalised shared-care arrangement with an ophthalmologist. The amendment sought would bring PBS prescribing in line with OBA guidelines.
Optometry Australia met with ACCC representatives in January to provide input to their annual audit report to the Senate on any potential anti-competitive activity/practices of private health funds in the past financial year. The specific focus of the audit is on the clarity of information for consumers regarding their policy and cover.
Optometry Australia has emphasised the need for consumers to be provided clear and comprehensive advice regarding the optical component of their policy, and our concern that this is not always the case. These points were to be reiterated in a written submission to the audit in late January.
In partnership with the National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation (NACCHO), Optometry Australia has made a submission to the Treasurer and Assistant Minister for Health Fiona Nash, who has responsibility for Indigenous health. We are calling for investment through the 2015-2016 Federal Budget to ensure subsidised spectacle schemes to meet the needs of Indigenous Australians are available in all states and territories. A meeting with Ms Nash is being sought for further consideration of this issue.
Optometry Australia is preparing a submission to the Reform of the Federation White Paper, which the Australian Government is developing. Our submission will focus on the need to ensure equitable access to eye care through ongoing Federal responsibility for and investment in primary care, and to end the ongoing ‘blame game’ surrounding health care to realise more fully the potential of prevention and early intervention, ensure safe care is provided in the most efficient setting, and support timely access to tertiary services.
In the latter part of 2014, Optometry Australia focused on further developing relationships with other health professional associations to ensure relevant professions have a sound understanding of the role of optometry and relevance to their patients. The most recent outcome of this is collaboration with the Australian Diabetes Educators Association, supporting the development of CPD for diabetes educators on eye health in their patients.
The Australian Government intended to contract jurisdictional fund holders to co-ordinate implementation of the Visiting Optometrists Scheme from 1 January 2015. Optometry Australia has made contact with non-government organisations that were expected to be invited to apply for this role, to provide an early introduction to the profession and the services provided through VOS and to offer ongoing support to work effectively with the profession.
Optometry Australia has welcomed Minister Sussan Ley to the Health Portfolio, following a cabinet reshuffle in late December, and provided Ms Ley with an initial overview of priority issues for the profession and community eye health. We are seeking a meeting with the Minister to help further her understanding of the profession, and showcase the role of optometry in the Australian health-care sector.