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Monday, 16 November 2009
Page: 11859

Mr Ramsey asked the Minister for Health and Ageing, in writing, on 7 September 2009:

(1)   Is she aware that none of the specialist ophthalmologists who supply cataract services in the electorate of Grey are likely to continue to provide this service if the Government persists with its plan to halve the Medicare Operating Fee (MOF) for cataract surgery.

(2)   Does she realise that this will mean the discontinuation of specialist ophthalmologist services in Port Lincoln, Port Augusta, Whyalla and Port Pirie, the centres which service 92 per cent of South Australia (SA) which is the Grey electorate.

(3)   What is the likely impact of the loss of these services in SA on (a) the regional community, (b) the State funded Patient Assisted Transport Scheme, and (c) metropolitan hospitals.

(4)   Did she consult with any ophthalmologists providing visiting services to regional Australia before making the decision to halve the MOF for cataract surgery?

Ms Roxon (Minister for Health and Ageing) —The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:

(1)   No. As announced in the 2009-10 Budget, the Government is amending the Medicare Benefits Schedule (MBS) fees for cataract surgery, which is now able to be performed more quickly and safely due to improvements in technology.

(2)   Medicare is a universal scheme offering equality of access to all Australians, with the same level of rebate regardless of location. It is a matter for individual ophthalmologists to determine where they choose to provide their services. In recognition of the costs associated with providing specialist services in rural and remote Australia, assistance is provided to improve access to eye services through the Medical Specialist Outreach Assistance Program (MSOAP) which complements any specialist outreach services provided by state and Northern Territory governments to improve the access to medical specialist services. MSOAP funds are accessed by ophthalmologists providing outreach to the Grey Electorate. Additionally, many ophthalmologists travelling to rural and remote areas receive further financial assistance from the state and territory governments which covers travel and accommodation costs, and loss of earnings at the practitioner’s normal practice location.

(3)   I recognise and commend the efforts of those dedicated ophthalmologists who provide a range of services, including cataract surgery, in rural and remote communities, where those services would otherwise not be available. It is noted that the majority of services are performed in the capital city and 9% of services are performed in rural and remote areas of South Australia. In reference to the potential impact on state-funded patient assistance transport schemes and metropolitan hospitals, it is not possible to predict the impact as we cannot predict the charging and practice behaviour of doctors.

(4)   The amendments to the cataract surgery items were announced as part of a budget measure. Such measures are regarded as ‘Budget-In-Confidence’.