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Optometry sector calls for improved access to eye care

MEDIA RELEASE 

  • Optometry Australia calls for equitable access to optometric care under Medicare
  • Reduced Federal Government investment poses immediate and long-term eye health risk for millions of Australian 
  • Older Australians are at particular risk due to greater instance of eye issues

Optometry Australia, the peak professional body for the optometry sector, has called on the Federal Government to increase investment in Medicare funded optometry to make access to optometry fair for all Australians.

In its Submission to the Federal Budget 2015-16: Making eye care accessible for all Australians, the organisation, which represents 90 per cent of optometrists, calls for action to remove barriers currently being faced by vulnerable members of the community who may be deterred from seeking critical eye checks following the Government’s reduction to the patient rebate for optometric care.

Optometry Australia urges the Australian Government to immediately implement:

  • Exemptions from the Medicare rebate cut for optometric consultations for pensioners, concession card holders, children and aged-care residents; and
  • Annual and fair indexation of optometry items on the Medicare Schedule.

It is also calling on the Government to prioritise solutions to overcome long-standing access issues for Australians living in rural or remote areas, in aged care, and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians.

Kate Gifford, President of Optometry Australia, said the Government must act now to stem the rise of Australians experiencing eye health or vision problems. “More than 12 million Australians already have long-term eye conditions and when you consider that 80% of all visual impairment is preventable or avoidable, we question why the Australian Government has enacted changes to Medicare which could contribute to this growth”.

According to an Access Economics for Vision 2020 Australia report (2009), the total economic cost of vision loss in Australia is estimated to be $16.6 billion–this is up $6.8 billion from when this study was last undertaken in 2004. This represents an average growth in the cost of vision loss of $1.36 billion a year.

“This level of growth is unacceptable,” Mrs Gifford said.

“We are at a critical juncture for eye care in Australia. The cuts made to Medicare rebates for optometry consultants in the 2014-15 Budget are creating more barriers to access for those already at a disadvantage and the gap between the cost to provide optometric patient care and the contribution the Government is prepared to make for that care is increasing.

“For older Australians and those on low incomes, this situation threatens to lock them out of accessing eye care as many won’t be in the position to afford an out-of-pocket expense. And with continually reducing rebates, many optometrists simply can’t bulk-bill these patients while maintaining a viable practice.

“We are calling on the Australian Government to apply the same patient exemptions regarding the Medicare rebate reduction to optometry, as is intended for general practice, to ensure that all patients are afforded equitable opportunity to access optometric care.

“Optometry Australia believes that the Government is putting access to eye care at serious risk and strongly recommend that the 2015-16 Budget includes complementary policy measures that will ensure primary eye care continues to be sustainable and accessible for all Australians”, Mrs Gifford concluded.

ENDS

Media Contact

  • Richard Amos, Royce Communications – 0418 344 978
  • Tony Faccenda, Royce Communications – 0411 231 433

A PDF version of this media release can be downloaded from the Optometry Australia website.

About Optometry Australia

Optometry Australia is the peak professional body for optometrists. Representing more than 90 per cent of all Australian-based optometrists, Optometry Australia’s focus is to lead and advance the profession of optometry by putting eye-health front and centre of Australian health care.

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