Investing to support people with macular disease to persist with sight saving treatment can save government billions of dollars and the sight of thousands, a Macular Disease Foundation Australia (MDFA) report forecasts.
A new economic modelling report, Investing to Save Sight: Health and Economic Benefits of Improving Macular Disease Treatment Persistence, MDFA launched 1 May shows that an investment to save the sight of thousands of vulnerable older Australians will save the federal government up to $2 billion – and it has the Australian public’s support.
MDFA statistics show age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is the leading cause of irreversible vision loss and blindness in Australia. One in seven Australians over the age of 50, representing 1.5 million Australians, show some evidence of AMD.
Currently, 80,000 Australians receive regular anti-VEGF eye injections to retain vision and prevent blindness. Since their introduction in 2007, eye injections have saved the sight of countless Australians living with neovascular AMD and diabetic macular oedema, the patient-support organisation said.
“On average, AMD patients need between five to seven anti-VEGF eye injections per eye each year, often for the rest of their lives. Regrettably, 20% of people will stop treatment in their first year, and 50% of people will stop their eye injections within five years, putting them at risk of severe vision loss or blindness,” MDFA warns.
MDFA’s latest economic modelling identifies cost and access as the main reasons why people with neovascular AMD stop treatment.
“This includes the challenges in accessing affordable or bulk-billed treatment for low-income earners and pensioners, and treatment for those living in rural and remote Australia,” the Investing to Save Sight report states.
The report shows that by increasing treatment persistence by 25%, the sight of an additional 22,000 vulnerable Australians will be saved, and up to two billion dollars added to the federal government’s bottom line.
MDFA is recommending three key areas for government to consider investment to increase treatment persistence by up to 25%.
This includes better affordability of treatment, easier accessibility to receive treatment, particularly for rural and remote Australians, and education and support programs to help people understand the importance of staying on treatment.
The Investing to Save Sight report is being launched as part of the MDFA Macula Month awareness program.
MDFA CEO Dr Kathy Chapman said the launch of the report is the start of a much larger conversation to support an investment into systemic change to eye injection treatment for the macular disease community.
“A modest shift of 25%, or 22,000 patients, persisting with eye injection treatment may not sound like much, but the longer-term impact for those people living with AMD and their families is enormous,” Chapman said.
“We hope the state, territory and federal governments will be as excited as MDFA about the benefits of saving people’s sight plus achieving such substantial cost savings for the government. We understand that this report has a timeline of 10 years for these economic benefits to be realised, but we also believe there are immediate gains for the macular disease community today”.
MDFA’s Patron, Ita Buttrose, said it is a tragedy that in 2023 Australians are losing their sight unnecessarily.
“Being able to see is a priceless gift that people take for granted until they lose it. So many older Australians are needlessly going blind when there are reasonable investments that government can make now for a longer-term benefit,” Buttrose said.
“We have a gold standard treatment available to stop people from losing their sight. If there are ways we can improve access and affordability for older Australians, then we should be doing it. As there’s a bottom-line benefit to the government, this should be an obvious decision for government to make.”
MDFA commissioned PwC Australia to model the economic benefits to government of increasing treatment persistence for people with wet AMD. It said the results highlighted in the Investing to Save Sight report are ‘astonishing’.
“If the state, territory and federal governments invested a little more into improving accessibility, affordability, and health literacy to help just an additional one in four people stay on their eye injection treatment journey, the government would benefit up to $2 billion over the next decade,” it said.
According to the MDFA, the investment has popular public approval with a recent YouGov survey finding that eight in ten Australians believe that government should invest in sight. It also showed that 69% of people believed pensioners should be provided with free sight-saving eye injections.
“Government can make huge savings, simply by making it easier for people who need eye injections to persist with their treatment,” Buttrose said.
“Eye injection treatment saves people’s sight and maintains their quality of life. It reduces the reliance upon the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) and the aged care system, which we know are already under enormous strain.”