Eye surgery at risk

PUBLIC eye surgery in the Bega Valley is under threat after the medical rebate for cataract surgery was almost halved in the Federal Budget.

The reduction from $600 to $311 comes into effect on November 1.

According to the Independent Ophthalmologists Network, this means a cataract operation is rated as a less valuable Medicare item than a hair transplant.

In a statement, the Network said that cataract surgery was of “priceless value to the individual and to the community”.

“Cataract is the leading cause of blindness in the world and fortunately we have the expertise and resources in this country to intervene before visual disability and blindness are widely encountered,” the statement said.

According to the Network, access to timely cataract surgery is made possible by a reasonably flexible private health system and the ability of a non-insured patient to self-fund using the Medicare schedule fee as a useful contribution.

The public hospital system offers a good support for the needy, but is nowhere near sufficient for the extent of cataract visual disability that effects the aging population.

Eye surgeon Dr Shish Lal who has a visiting practice in Bega, said if the cut is implemented, the viability of providing the service will be compromised.

“It will make it very difficult for surgeons to keep coming to rural areas like this,” he said.

“And that will mean no outreach clinics which depend on a certain level of government funding to remain viable.”

Dr Lal said the result would be that people could no longer afford the surgery in a private hospital.

“They would then go onto the public waiting lists which will blow right out,” he said.

Dr Lal said cataract surgery was important as it had a flow-on affect.

“It has been proven that the risk of falls and hip replacement decrease after people have had cataract surgery,” he said.

“If they have to spend a longer time on a waiting list then there is a greater risk of those things happening and it increases the health costs later on.”

Dr Lal said he and other surgeons would like to see the rebate remain as it is.

The reason given for the cut was that cataract surgery can be performed in less than 20 minutes and due to those technological advances it is seen as over-funded for such a short surgical procedure.

The Network said “this over simplification demonstrated a lack of understanding that the fees derived from surgery are used to fund an expensive infrastructure.

“A surgery time-based cut in the rebate fee is a misleading and over simplified rationale which shows no understanding of the expense and complexity in providing modern eye care.”