Local, News

Optometry Australia releases Federal Budget wish list

An additional $13.7 million could fund the reinstatement of more frequent eye exams for middle-aged patients and pave the way for future optometry service models, including virtual consultations and wearable technology, according to Optometry Australia (OA).

The recommendations feature among five proposals OA has made to the Federal Government ahead of the release of its 2020/21 Budget in the coming months.

If implemented, it believes the measures would create a positive and almost immediate impact on the eye health of millions of Australians, while reducing the social and economic burden of vision impairment.

In its submission, OA calls on the Federal Government to:

  • Reinstate biennial Medicare rebates for a comprehensive initial examination for Australians aged between 45 and 64 years. $9 million in 2020-2021.
  • Expanding the Visiting Optometrists Scheme (VOS) to deliver 31,500 more outreach optometry services for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and rural and remote communities. $7.84 million over three years from 2020-2021.
  • Match the one-off funding already committed by OA to support 2020: The year of good vision for life, a campaign to develop new creative approaches to highlight awareness of general eye health. $460,000 in 2020-2021.
  • Support ongoing access to sustainable eyecare by investing in applied research into models to enhance integration of optometric care into primary care and facilitate collaboration with tertiary eyecare services. $1.5 million in 2020-2021.
  • Initiate a comprehensive, independent review of the Medicare fee schedule, to ensure alignment with the true cost of providing care.

OA’s call to reinstate biennial Medicare rebates for middle-aged people is part of the Medicare Benefits Schedule (MBS) Review and analysis of services provided under the Optometrical Services Schedule, which the organisation is participating in.

Until 2015, all Australians could access a Medicare rebate for a comprehensive eye examination every two years. However, the 2014-2015 Budget changed this to once every three years for asymptomatic patients under the age of 65.

“There is no doubt that denying asymptomatic patients a Medicare rebate for regular two-yearly eye health examinations puts them at risk of preventable vision loss or blindness,” the submission stated.

“In 2009 there were 575,000 Australians over the age of 45 with some form of vision impairment or blindness. This is expected to increase to over 800,000 by 2020. Ninety per cent of vision impairment is avoidable or treatable and the rate of return on investment in primary eye health and vision care is significant.”

In its recommendation titled: Future-proofing the sustainability of primary eye care, OA estimated a one-off investment could help optometry practices adopt new funding and business strategies.

“We anticipate the growth of ‘partici-patients’, supported by optometrists working in collaborative professional patient relationships,” the submission said.

“To facilitate this, optometry services will no longer be solely offered through face-to-face interaction, but instead facilitated by technology and available to consumers in a range of different ways.

“This includes virtual consultations and digital health monitoring via wearables. Increased collaboration with other clinicians is expected to be common and care models will be more diverse.”

OA predicts the traditional retail arm of many optometry practices will eventually cease to exist and that the digital marketplace and clinical options to address refractive error will result in the demand for prescription glasses to virtually disappear.

OA president Mr Darrell Baker said the measures were vital to ensure access to quality eye care is maintained for all Australians, particularly those who need it most.

“Our submission to the Federal Budget 2020 – 2021 and our different recommendations are aligned with the Optometry 2040 project where we want to make sure Optometry Australia and the profession are prepared for the future and the changes,” he said.