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Wednesday, 10 June 1970

The CHAIRMAN (Sir Lucock (LYNE, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Order! The honourable member's time has expired. [Quorum formed.] '

Mr MAISEY(Moore) 1.8.21]- I am supporting the course of action proposed by the Minister for Health (Dr Forbes) in respect of these proposed amendments. However 1 want to make some observations about 2 of the proposals. They are proposed amendments No. I and No. 7. I refer first lo proposed amendment No. 1. I want to make these observations because I believe they clearly indicate that there is a need at some future time for the Minister lo give this position some attention. An anomaly definitely exists. Since 1953, when the national health scheme began, there has been the peculiar exclusion of the patients of eye specialists from receiving benefits for consultations with their doctor. Consider the cases of 2 patients sent to a specialist by a general practitioner for the investigation of headaches. After a complete medical examination of their eyes I patient is found to have nothing wrong. He receives a full rebate. This "s also the case if he is found to have some disease which is treated. But the other patient is found simply to need glasses for the relief of his symptoms. They are ordered by the doctor but the patient loses the benefit of his rebate.

Obviously th is is a ludicrous situation. The original intent of the National Health Act was to have the consultations of all doctors covered by medical benefits. However, when optometrists claimed that they would lose clients if doctors fees were partly paid by the Commonwealth and applied for benefits to cover their own sight testing, the Government refused to pay these paramedical benefits but rescinded the benefit that rightly should have been paid to the patients of doctors. 1-hs seems lo me to be a completely unfair method of solving the problem. I have been told that Sim a year is a conservative estimate of the amount lost to patients in this manner. Whether optometrists are in need of economic assistance is beside the point. In the

Sydney 'Sun' of 25th August 1969, in an article discussing vocations open to young people leaving school, members of the Australian Optometrical Association were quoted as saying that optometrists upon graduation could expect a salary of $6,000 to $8,000 a year and, when they became established, an income of SI 2.000 to $14,000 a year, and that there was a shortage of 200 optometrists in Australia. lt seems to me therefore that optometrists certainly fare rather better than some Ministers of the Crown. Be that as it may, the first duty of the Government must be to supply the best type of medical service, whether it involves the treatment of the heart, blood pressure, kidney disease or the eyes.

I am told by friends who are medical specialists that there are many eve diseases which, by their symptoms, lead the patient to think that he simply needs glasses. If these diseases are detected when the patient seeks glasses then a very great deal can be done to reduce the incidence of blindness in the Australian community. However, as only doctors are qualified to detect such diseases it is obvious that people should bc encouraged and not discouraged to seek medical examination at an early lime and at regular intervals. For 16 years the Government, in the admitted economic interests of optometrists, has discouraged people from seeking such attention and has made it impossible for people who cannot afford medical fees to attend specialists because they might not get their rebate.

The Prime Minister (Mr Gorton) promised that no medical service would cost more than S5. But unless this proposed amendment is attended to at some future time the withdrawal of the Commonwealth benefit in such cases will leave more than $5 for the patient to pay, when the common fee is charged by an eye specialist, for a visit at which glasses are ordered. I believe that the Government should honour its financial promises at some future date. Further, the Government has a moral obligation to the Australian taxpayers to pay for an ophthalmologist's consultation in exactly the same way as it does for any other medical specialist whether or not glasses are prescribed. Failure to do this would be admitting that the Government is failing to support a vital medical service to an estimated 300,000 health scheme contributors a year for the purpose of supporting the economic interests of optometrists who are unqualified to supply the best and a complete service. I would like at some future time tonight to continue my remarks about proposed amendment No. 7.

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