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Wednesday, 13 May 1970

Dr FORBES (Barker) (Minister for Health) - Mr Chairman, the honourable member for Barton (Mr Reynolds) asked why the provision he mentioned has not been included in the Bill. I direct his attention to section 15.5 of the report of the Nimmo Committee, which states:

The fac) that spectacle lenses are prescribed both by ophthalmologists and by optometrists gives rise to special problems under the scheme. It is c'..'imcd by optometrists that unfair discrimination arises from the fact that subject to special conditions medical benefits are payable for consultations with ophthalmologists but not with optometrists.

In section 15.6 the report says:

The Commonwealth has sought to remove discrimination by a provision in the National Health Act under which consultations with medical practitioners in consequence of which spectacle lenses are prescribed are not eligible for Commonwealth benefits. This provision penalises ophthalmologists' patients and it is claimed that devices are employed to circumvent it. While it is an unsatisfactory provision the Committee is unable to suggest any other means of achieving the result sought.

As I say, the Nimmo Committee had this aspect under review and came up with that conclusion. I have today received a deputation from the Ophthalmological Society, as I have done on many occasions in the past, and it has placed before me new information on this question which I have undertaken to consider. If it seems to change the situation, which has proved a problem to the Government over many years, I have undertaken to take this question to the Government and, if the Government agrees, to sponsor an appropriate amendment next time the National Health Act is amended. There has not been time and there would not be time within the next week or two for this new information to be analysed and properly assessed in the light of these considerations.

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