Optometrists may be forced to stop bulk-billing after cuts
OPTOMETRISTS are under financial pressure to stop bulk billing patients following the Federal Government's 5% cut to the Medicare rebate that took effect on January 1.
Grafton optometrist Bradley Deece said the cut followed a two-year freeze on rebates.
He said an extension of the freeze on rebates until 2018 means rebates for optometry services will not have increased for six years.
"The Medicare rebate provided by the Federal Government will remain unchanged while the costs of providing these services continue to rise," Mr Deece said.
Essentially every consultation loses us money.
"These changes further impact the many years of inadequate indexing of the Medicare rebate. The Medicare rebate has not increased in line with costs and inflation over the last 14 years."
Mr Deece said the rebate was $56.80 for a comprehensive consultation, while break-even costs for an optometry clinic in a regional area would be between $110 and $130.
"Essentially every consultation loses us money," he said.
"The only answer for us to keep the practice viable is to stop bulk billing.
"For us to maintain bulk billing for the majority of our services, the Medicare rebate would need to be between $90 and $100 with patients paying a small fee to cover the gap."
In the wake of the changes to the Medicare rebate the Optometrists Association of Australia (Optometry Australia) has released a schedule of recommended fees. It recommends that patients would pay $110 for a 30-minute comprehensive consultation.
Mr Deece said the Medicare changes had flown under the radar while much of the focus was on healthcare changes in the GP sector. "The Federal Government has also recently changed the frequency at which patients under the age of 65 can access a full rebate for eyecare consultations from every two years to every three years," he said.
"Together with the Medicare rebate cuts these short-sighted changes are estimated to strip almost $100 million dollars from the eye healthcare sector over the next five years."
Mr Deece said the changes would impact in the community, warning that the flow-on effect will be optometry practices moving away from routinely bulk-billing patients.