Pensioners hardest hit by rebate cuts

Dr Emanuel Svoboda wants the Federal Government to rethink cuts to Medicare rebates.
Dr Emanuel Svoboda wants the Federal Government to rethink cuts to Medicare rebates.

PENSIONERS will struggle to afford cataract surgery when the Medicare rebate is cut by more than half next year, according to a Coolangatta surgeon.

Emanuel Svoboda of The Eye Care Clinic called cataract surgery “arguably the best operation in medicine” and said cutting the medical rebate for the procedure was “illogical”.

He said the Coolangatta surgery's “no gap” policy, where the procedure was fully paid for by Medicare, would no longer be feasible.

“Not many people know about the cut, but the ones that become aware of it are extremely alarmed,” Dr Svoboda said.

“The Government's reasoning for the cut was because work has become faster on this essential procedure over the past 20-odd years.

“It has become faster, but the technology has become more advanced, is more expensive and takes more ex- pertise to operate.

“A cataract operation is a fundamental operation, it has been shown to reduce falls, which saves a lot more money by preventing hospitalisations.”

Richmond MP and Minister for Ageing, Justine Elliot, said the cut would affect the most common form of cataract surgery and would be an appropriate fee to represent the “real cost” of the now commonplace procedures.

She said the Government was in the process of negotiating Medicare changes with the profession for more complex operations.

“The fee for the most commonly performed cataract service, which typically takes between 15 and 20 minutes to perform, will be reduced from $831.60 to $409.60,” Mrs Elliot said.

“The Government is willing to set a new, higher, MBS item fee for more complex cataract procedures, and is in active discussions with the profession in regard to that.”

Dr Svoboda said the Tweed would be one of the areas hardest hit, with its high percentage of elderly residents, a large percentage of whom will need to have cataract surgery at some stage.

He said Murwillumbah's waiting lists were shorter than the five-year wait in Brisbane, but still lengthy.

“The reduced rebate will increase the barriers for afford- able cataract procedures and force a lot of people on to public waiting lists.”

The regional visits made by one of Dr Svoboda's colleagues to treat rural and Aboriginal residents free of charge was also put under threat by the Government's proposed changes.

“Rural and Aboriginal communities who can afford (cataract surgery) least will now miss out,” he said.

“It is really going to affect everybody; we think the Gov- ernment has not thought this through.

“Vision is just so important to the community and impacts on everything.”

But Mrs Elliot urged specialists to wait until the fee was set before making decisions about rural operations.

“The Government would urge specialists to wait until that fee is set before making decisions about their rural and regional practices,” she said.

“The Rudd Government has provided targeted support for rural and regional Australians via its specialist outreach program. This program specifically provides $800,000 for cataract procedures undertaken in rural and regional areas.

“The changes will not come into effect until 1 November. The Minister recently met with the profession to discuss the implementation of this policy and discussions with the Government are ongoing.”

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