Monday, 2 November 2009

Does Federal Health & Aging Minister Nicola Roxan believe that some eyes are more equal than others?

Australian Federal Minister for Health and Aging Nicola Roxon has made much of what she describes as technological advances and efficiencies reducing straightforward cataract removal to minor eye surgery requiring a lower Medicare rebate (ophthalmologists are already subject to an individual Medicare annual cataract surgery quota according to one local optometrist).

Sounds reasonable, doesn't it? If it takes less time and effort to perform this surgery it makes sense that the operation is worth less than the $650.25 2008 Medicare scheduled fee - it's not just a government cost cutting measure hitting the low-income elderly the hardest by reducing this fee to $350.95 per No. 42698 procedure.

Except that according to the Australian Medical Association, a higher existing cataract surgery scheduled fee will still apply to operations performed on returned service personnel.
This fee being set independently of Medicare Benefits Schedule and the Rudd Government obviously wary of taking on the RSL has left it intact - improved medical procedures it seems in this case are besides the point.

Here is how this new schedule appears to work for all other Australians accessing eye surgery through Medicare:

On 28 October 2009 the Senate passed a motion to disallow MBS items 42698, 42701, 42702 and 42718 relating to cataract surgery, from the Health Insurance (General Medical Services Table) Regulations 2009 . This effectively meant there would have been no Medicare rebates available for those services from 1 November 2009. On 29 October 2009, the Minister for Health and Ageing the Hon Nicola Roxon MP, signed a Determination, in accordance with section 3C of the Health Insurance Act 1973 reinstating those items. As such, rebates will be available from 1 November 2009 at the following rates:

The NSW Combined Pensioners and Superannuants Association media release on 31 October 2009:

"Fee-free access to cataract surgery will remain available to veterans, but pensioners and others on low incomes will have to pay hundreds of dollars extra for their treatment," said Antoine Mangion, CPSA Policy/Research Officer. "One has to wonder what makes a procedure on a veteran so special as to warrant maintaining the current rebate if the Government finds it so justifiable to slash the rebate for others, especially pensioners."

The Minister needs to explain to low-income families, pensioners and retirees living on the NSW North Coast and across the rest of Australia why she considers that some people's eyesight is worth more than others. ?

Cataract remains the leading cause of blindness globally
[World Health Organisation, May 2009]

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