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All eyes on 2019 budget as review outcomes loom

04/06/2018
There was a muted response from Australian medical bodies to this year’s Federal Budget, with the government adopting a steady approach to health policy.

While only a few new funding announcements related to the eye health sector, Optometry Australia (OA) CEO Ms Lyn Brodie has said there is no time to rest with outcomes from the Medicare Benefits Schedule (MBS) review on the horizon, and the Medicare rebate freeze due to end in 2019.

“We expected a ‘steady-as–you-go’ approach and we weren’t really expecting anything for optometry. However, once the MBS review concludes we do expect to see some significant and positive shifts for optometrists,” Brodie said.

“The government is determined to have it all completed by the end of the year and I took the opportunity at the Budget ‘lock up’ to speak to the person at the Health Department who’s running the taskforce, and he indicated that we would be hearing something in the next few weeks as to the timeline for the optometry items.”

To that end, Brodie said OA had already established an optometry advisory group that had convened in May to develop recommendations regarding how the Optometrical Schedule of Services should be amended.

Lyn Brodie, Optometry Australia incoming CEO
"We had fantastic interest from a lot of optometrists right around the country to be involved and have the opportunity to provide some input, so we want to use all that expertise,"
Lyn Brodie, CEO of Optometry Australia (OA)

“We had fantastic interest from a lot of optometrists right around the country to be involved and have the opportunity to provide some input, so we want to use all that expertise,” she said.

“The chair of the taskforce that’s doing the review said it’s important to look at it very holistically, very much from the perspective of community eye health and what is going to be best practice for the community.”

The Australian Medical Association (AMA) has also suggested that 2019 will see major changes to the health portfolio, and president Dr Michael Gannon said due to the number of ongoing major reviews, this Budget was notable as much for what wasn’t included as for what it contained.

“The bigger structural health reform announcements are yet to come. The major reviews of the Medicare Benefits Schedule and private health are not yet finalised, and the ensuing policies will be significant,” Gannon said.

“The government is to be congratulated on its ongoing commitment to medical research, and for its positive contribution to improving Indigenous health, especially eye health, ear health, and remote dialysis.”

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According to Vision 2020, an additional $3 million has been committed to Indigenous eye health, bringing the total funding up to $34.3 million over the next three years. The majority of the extra money will go towards 50 new retinal cameras and training for the detection of diabetic retinopathy, while $500,000 has been given to Eye and Ear Surgical Support Services to address cataract surgery needs.

RANZCO welcomed the government’s increased commitment to improving Indigenous eye health and said it was “delighted” with the addition of an item number for corneal cross-linking for progressive keratoconus.

However, while it was pleased that there were no cuts to patient rebates for other items, the college said it was disappointed not to see more support for ophthalmic research, and regional and remote eye health projects.

“Improving access of rural patients to eyecare has been a key focus of RANZCO,” the spokesperson said.

“We had also hoped to see more investment in the future of eyecare through funding for ophthalmic research. It is through research that we are able to identify new cures, improve outcomes for patients and focus on the future of eyecare for people across Australia.”

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