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Monday, 19 October 2015
Page: 11661

Ms BURKE (Chisholm) (10:30): I am extremely pleased to be here today with members of the optometry community to present this very large petition, with 18,000 signatures in all. I have had experience firsthand with optometry, obviously, with the ageing process. Also, my grandfather ran a very large optometry firm, and I am very happy to be part of this today. Optometry is a vital part of health care, providing essential primary health care and vision to an Australian population that is both ageing and experiencing an increased prevalence of eye and vision conditions. Optometrists provide the majority of primary eye and vision care in Australia. In fact, outside general practice, more Australians visit an optometrist than any other healthcare service.

For many people, a comprehensive eye assessment by an optometrist often results in the prescribing of glasses or contact lenses to restore functional sight, but optometrists contribute so much more to the prevention of vision loss and to vision health across Australia. For example, optometrists regularly detect and initiate management of a number of progressive eye conditions such as cataracts, diabetic retinopathy, macular degeneration and glaucoma. These are eye conditions which are degenerative and, without early detection, can result in permanent vision loss.

Optometrists also work closely with ophthalmologists, referring patients for eye surgery and often providing post-operative care. Optometrists also monitor and refer patients with general health conditions, such as diabetes and hypertension, which they pick up when they are doing eye checks. Many optometrists also are able to prescribe and administer scheduled medications. Despite the broad scope of practice optometrists provide and the fact that 80 per cent of all eye and vision conditions are preventable with early detection through a comprehensive eye assessment, unmanaged eye and vision conditions cost about $16 billion each year across the Australian economy.

At the beginning of 2015, there were significant changes to the optometry Medicare Benefits Schedule. These changes included a five per cent cut to all optometry consultations under Medicare and an extension to the existing freeze on indexation of the optometry Medicare Benefits Schedule through to July 2018. This disinvestment in Medicare for optometry is having a significant impact on both optometrists and patients, especially in areas of social disadvantage. For many patients who experience disadvantage, any increase in out-of-pocket costs for health care is an excessive barrier to access, and many are just not going to see the optometrist. The five per cent cut to optometry consultations is universal. There are no exemptions for the more vulnerable patients such as low-income earners, children and those in the aged-care sector. Coupled with the extensive freeze on the MBS indexation, the Medicare patient rebate for an optometry consultation is now about $10 less than it should be.

These cuts are placing many pressures on optometrists and on patients, and people are not getting the eye care they need. This will result in the future in some optometry practices having to close, particularly in low-socioeconomic areas. I present the petition today and call on the government to reverse these cuts. I thank the Deputy Speaker for her patience.

The petition read as follows—

To the Honourable The Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives.

This petition of Optometry Australia, the peak professional body for optometry and with a membership base of over 90% of all registered optometrists within Australia, draws to the attention of the House the:

(i) 5 per cent cut to all scheduled optometry items under Medicare, introduced by regulation and effective 1 January 2015; and

(ii) Extension of the optometric Medicare Benefits Schedule freeze on indexation through to July 2018.

This 5 per cent cut to all optometric Medicare items threatens patient access and sustainable service provision, especially in areas of socio-economic disadvantage. Under this 5 per cent cut to scheduled fees, optometrists are now faced with the predicament to either absorb a cut in their remuneration under Medicare, despite rising practice costs. or ask their patients to pay higher out-of-pocket expenses. For many patients who already experience disadvantage, out-of-pocket costs are a significant barrier to accessing health care. Combine this with the ongoing freeze on indexation to Medicare rebates and this situation is becoming untenable for many optometrists and their patients. As optometrists are the pillars of eye care within Australia, playing a key role in the prevention and early detection of many eye and vision conditions, this disinvestment in Medicare significantly jeopardises the eye health of the broader Australian community.

We ask the House to reverse the 5 per cent cut to all scheduled optometry items under Medicare and reinstate annual indexation of the optometric Medicare Benefits Schedule.

from 18,510 citizens.

Petition received.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Mrs Griggs ): I note that the Petitions Committee has approved the petition. I would also just like to acknowledge one of my constituents, Helen Summers, who is in the gallery there. Welcome, Helen.