Vision 2020 Australia has described the first Federal Budget for Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Treasurer Scott Morrison handed down last night as uninspiring for the eye health and vision care sector.
Among the disappointing budget news was the Government’s decision to extend the indexation freeze on the Medicare Benefits Schedule (MBS) for a further two years to June 2020 in a bid to save $925 million in the health budget. This decision will put added pressure on optometrists to start charging patients to recover the real cost of providing eye care services.
Additionally there will be cumulative cuts to the tune of $182 million across the suite of flexible funds programs, which incorporates important outreach ophthalmology services.
Vision 2020 Australia’s Director of Policy and Advocacy, Brandon Ah Tong, said that these measures were disappointing and uninspiring, lacking foresight by the Australian Government.
But in good news, the Budget has delivered a significant breakthrough committing $33.8 million to allow GPs to utilise a new MBS item number to claim rebates for photographs taken using non-mydriatic retinal cameras.
“This initiative will particularly encourage Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and non-Indigenous Australians living with diabetes who don’t have regular eye exams to be screened for signs of retinopathy,” Mr Ah Tong said.
An NDIS Savings Fund was established with $2.1 billion in the 2016-17 financial year and the My Aged Care Gateway will receive a capacity boost from 1 July of $136.6 million over the forward estimates. However it is unclear if Australians who are blind or vision impaired will materially benefit from these new initiatives.
As expected, the news was not good for the foreign aid budget with another cut to the tune of $224 million, taking the budget to a historical low of 0.23 per cent of gross national income at $3.8 billion.
In particular, overseas development assistance to South East and East Asia has been cut significantly, from $909.5 million to $880.4 million, with aid to Vietnam cut from $89.6 million to $83.6 million.
“While we were expecting the news, these continued cuts are disappointing and will impact on great progress made combating avoidable blindness among some of the region’s most vulnerable people,” Mr Ah Tong said.
For more information:Louise Rudzki at Vision 2020 Australia
03 9656 2020, 0414 784 359 or firstname.lastname@example.org