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Optometry Medicare freeze lifted: 1.6% patient rebate increase

19/06/2019By Myles Hume
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The Federal Government has maintained its pre-election promise to reinstate Medicare indexation, ending an almost seven-year freeze on rebates for optometry care.

From 1 July, a 1.6% increase will apply to rebates of optometry-related Medicare Benefits Schedule (MBS) items – 12 months earlier than the government’s indicated 2020 timeframe.

While the move has been welcomed by the sector, advocates warn that the lengthy suspension has taken a significant toll, with current optometric fees no longer representative of the true cost of providing clinical care.

According to Optometry Australia (OA), optometry MBS items have not been indexed since November 2012. Initially introduced by the Gillard government as a short-term initiative, the freeze was extended by subsequent governments from both sides of the political spectrum.

Then, in 2015, the Coalition government introduced an unprecedented 5% reduction to all optometry rebates, meaning that patient rebates for optometry are 5% lower today than they were in 2012. During that year, a fee cap was also lifted, allowing optometrists to determine their own fees.

In 2017 the Coalition government announced that a return to indexation of MBS items would be phased in over three years. In their election campaigns this year, both the Liberal and Labor parties declared a commitment to a 1 July 2019 reinstatement deadline, with re-elected Prime Minister Scott Morrison confirming the decision earlier this month.

Skye Cappuccio
Skye Cappuccio
“We don't believe that the indexation rate applied by the Government to MBS rebateS fairly reflects the true increase in the costs of providing quality optometric care”
Skye Cappuccio, Optometry Australia

OA member services and optometry advancement general manager Ms Skye Cappuccio told Insight the organisation was generally pleased the government had followed through on its promise, and delivered sooner than expected.

“However, we don't believe that the indexation rate applied by the Government to MBS rebates … fairly reflects the true increase in the costs of providing quality optometric care,” she said.

Cappuccio said while the almost seven-year freeze had been felt across the whole sector, it had particularly impacted bulk-billing practices and those who serviced lower socio economic areas.

“For those practices that primarily bulk-bill their patients, this means they are making less and less off the provision of clinical services,” she said.

“For some practices this can threaten long-term sustainability. Unfortunately, this can be particularly the case for practices with limited sources of income beyond that associated with clinical care, including those providing services in areas of social disadvantage.”

Cappuccio said her organisation had been a consistent advocate for fairer patient rebates. In its pre-election campaign, OA members helped distribute 4,000 pieces of communication to federal representatives calling for a reassessment of patient rebates for optometry items.

She added: “We will continue to advocate for fairer rebates and will look to politically mobilise our membership on this issue when it is politically opportune.”

 

More reading:

Ophthalmic profession reacts to shock election result
Outcry as optometry misses out in 2017 Budget
OA pitch to unwind Medicare rebate ‘freeze’ heats up
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