The decision to maintain the freeze for the next two years comes despite an immediate return to indexation for GPs and a concerted lobbying effort from the profession’s peak national body.OA president Mr Andrew Hogan said while he was relieved there is now a clear timeframe for optometry, he rained disappointed and frustrated that the freeze on indexation was not lifted immediately.
“The need to act is even more pressing for optometry services because optometrists have had to bear not only a freeze on indexation since 2012 but they also endured a further cut to rebates in 2015,” Hogan said.
“It is extrely disappointing that the government continues to treat optometry as a low healthcare priority when more than half the Australian population suffers from an eye health probl or condition that can either be prevented or managed to reduce risk of vision loss.”OA estimates that government investment in primary eyecare through Medicare has decreased by an around $103 million since 2015 and that millions of Australians could be penalised as a result.
“The failure to lift the rebates hits hardest in those practices throughout Australia where patients have a heavy reliance on bulk-billing. As rebates continue to fall behind the cost of providing clinical care, the struggle to survive will rain real. There’s a genuine threat to sustainability of services under those circumstances,” Hogan added.“For each month that Australians wait for the government to lift the freeze and reinvest in their eye care, the economy is impacted by $1.36 billion.”Meanwhile, despite agreeing with the need to immediately lift the Medicare rebate freeze for optometry, Vision 2020 Australia CEO Ms Carla Northam welcomed the government’s increased focus on health and disability.“We applaud the full funding of the National Disability Insurance Sche, which will give people who are blind and vision impaired greater opportunities for independence and participation in society,” she said.However, she also expressed disappointment that the commitment to healthcare access did not extend to foreign aid, which will have its budget frozen for two years from 2018.“Ninety per cent of people who are blind or vision impaired are located in developing countries, and two-thirds live in our region. Eye health and vision care programs have the power to lift these people out of poverty, but the government has failed in its international development obligation to support the world’s most vulnerable,” she said.