The Australian ophthalmic sector is upbeat about the transition of power to a Labor government and will now seek to advocate for eyecare reforms that peak bodies say are well overdue.
Labor ended its nine-year term in opposition at the 2022 federal election on Saturday 21 May, convincingly beating the the Coalition that tended to lose seats to Labor in suburban areas, and to independents in wealthier areas of capital cities.
New Prime Minister Mr Anthony Albanese – Australia’s 31st leader – is set to unveil his full line-up of Labor’s frontbench next week, with many tipping the party’s pre-election Shadow Health Minister Mr Mark Butler to be handed the health portfolio.
Relevant to the ophthalmic sector, Labor promised to reject a MBS Review Taskforce proposal to cut the current rebate for intravitreal injections, and slash the maximum co-payment for PBS scripts from $42.50 to $30, a reduction of 29%.
Asked how she expected the incoming Labor government to impact eyecare in Australia, Optometry Australia (OA) CEO Ms Lyn Brodie told Insight several significant health announcements were made in the pre-election period.
However, none of these signalled significant system-level reform or changes to improve community eyecare access.
“We will be reaching out to the government to continue conversations begun during their period in opposition, about changes needed to ensure all Australians can get timely, affordable access to the eyecare they need. We have good relationships with key people within the incoming government,” she said.
One of the largest and most important Labor commitments during the campaign was almost 1 billion over four years for primary care reform.
Brodie said the focus of this reform measure was general practice, and the impact on eyecare is expected to be minimal. While additional investment in primary care is welcomed, she said the sector needed the incoming government to recognise primary care extends beyond general practice to include important prevention, early intervention and management by allied health workers and optometrists.
“Optometry Australia will therefore continue to lobby for a $22.6 million investment in eyecare over the next five year to deflect a looming eye health crisis,” she added.
A rejuvenated government
Australian Society of Ophthalmologists vice president Dr Peter Sumich said Australia was now left with a new mosaic of a parliament which will need to be adapted to.
“I can only see a benefit for health because we finally have a new keen government which has not been exhausted by the COVID effort,” he said.
“The portfolios are yet to be announced however we feel confident that eye health will continue to receive good support.”
Eye health envestment well overdue
Welcoming the new federal Labor government and Prime Minister, Vision 2020 Australia CEO Ms Patricia Sparrow said the new parliament presented opportunities for positive change.
“Vision 2020 Australia congratulates the incoming Labor government and is looking forward to working with them, as well as the large crossbench, to deliver on eyecare reform for all Australians and ensure that quality services to support people who are blind or have low vision are available when they are needed,” Sparrow said.
“In Australia, 90% of blindness and vision loss is preventable or treatable if detected early enough. The time to enact policies that ensure prevention and timely treatment are available for all Australians and that people who are blind or have low vision can get the services they need has well and truly arrived.”
According to Vision 2020, vision loss costs the Australian economy $27.6 billion annually. Recent estimates indicate that by 2050, half of Australians will require eyecare services and the economic costs are about to compound.
“Additionally, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities are disproportionately impacted and experience vision loss at three times the rate of other Australians, accounting for 11% of the health gap,” Sparrow said.
“We urge the Albanese government to put eye health and support for people who are blind or have low vision on the top of its first term agenda.”
The full list of Vision 2020’s proposals can be found here.