Survey Reveals Folly of Slashing Medicare Rebate for Cataract Surgery

by VR Sreeraman on Sep 22 2009 2:01 PM

AMA President, Dr Andrew Pesce, said today that an AMA survey of ophthalmologists highlights why the Government should reverse its Budget decision to halve the Medicare patient rebate for cataract surgery.

Dr Pesce said that older Australians would be hit hardest by this callous Budget cut at a stage of life when they are struggling to keep their sight and afford a good quality of life.

"The Budget decision was based on poor advice that does not reflect the reality of performing quality cataract surgery and providing professional follow-up care for patients," Dr Pesce said.

The Government believes that most cataract surgery is performed in 15 to 20 minutes - wrong.

The Government claims that ophthalmologists are overcharging their patients - wrong.

The Government believes that halving the Medicare patient rebate for cataract surgery is good health policy - wrong and unfair.

The Government has put a modest saving to the Budget bottom line ahead of the health and welfare of some of the most vulnerable people in the community, - Dr Pesce said.

It is time for the Government to do the right thing by these people, many of whom who may be denied the vital operation that could save or improve their sight because they can no longer afford it.

"The rebate must be restored to its proper level."

Dr Pesce said that the AMA survey showed that more than two-thirds of private ophthalmologists would cut back their public patients if State Governments followed the Federal Government and cut the contract rate for cataract surgery.

"MBS fees no longer reflect the true cost of delivering medical care," Dr Pesce said.

The Medicare patient rebate for cataract surgery has been significantly cut twice since 1987.

On this occasion, the Government has failed to acknowledge that the Medicare rebate must cover at least two postoperative visits to the doctor, with most doctors providing three visits, and some doctors providing four or more.

On top of this, the income that doctors generate from providing professional medical services must cover their practice costs, which include their staff and equipment.

These costs are met entirely from the fee charged by the doctor.

"The fees that ophthalmologists are actually charging has increased by just 1.8 per cent a year between 1993 and 2008, which is less than the CPI increase of 2.5 per cent or the increase in average earnings of 3.7 per cent over the same period."

During August and September, 334 ophthalmologists responded to the AMA survey.

Key findings of the survey include:

• 72 per cent of cataract operations take more than 20 minutes;

• 62 per cent of ophthalmologists provide three postoperative follow-up visits as part of the cataract surgery. Ten per cent provide four or more visits; and

• 81 per cent of private ophthalmologists contracted to provide cataract services to public patients will not be able to continue to provide these services if the contract payment is reduced as a result of the cuts to the Medicare rebate.

Medicare data shows that:

• 79 per cent of Medicare rebates for cataract surgery are paid to men and women over the age of 65; and

• more than 105,000 older Australians had private cataract surgery in 2008-09.