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Eye surgeons threaten ban over Medicare cuts PDF
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Australian News
Tuesday, 06 October 2009

Fred Hollows's dream of performing cataract surgery in remote areas of the state is in doubt after more than 50 eye surgeons threatened to stop operating on public patients in protest against cuts to Medicare rebates.

The outback eye team, run by the Prince of Wales Hospital and inspired by Hollows, has been travelling to western NSW for 14 years to treat patients with eye problems, but fears it might have to stop offering cataract surgery after a decision by the Federal Government to halve the Medicare rebate.

The threatened ban by ophthalmologists, which will affect thousands of people, most of them elderly, is expected to cause a massive blow-out in hospital waiting lists, already about two years in some country areas.

The ban has been called after the Federal Government launched an advertising campaign this week, accusing ophthalmologists of charging too much for cataract surgery, and defending its decision to cut the rebate from $623.70 to $311.85 from November 1.

Improvements in technology had made the operation quicker, so it could done more cheaply, and ophthalmologists were ''blurring the facts to protect their Medicare-subsidised incomes'', the Government said in a statement.

But eye surgeons are furious, saying they are being expected to perform life-changing surgery for the price of a pair of spectacles.

The following is an extract from the ALP website:

"This year over 123,000 cataract procedures will be funded by the Australian Government - more than ever before.

Improvements in technology have made this life-improving surgery quicker so it can now be delivered for a much lower price.

This is good news and allows precious funding to be re-directed into other areas, giving a boost to our health and hospital system now and in the future.

Not surprisingly, a campaign has been mounted by the Australian Society of Ophthalmologists to blur the facts and protect their Medicare subsidised incomes.

We can not afford a health system built around the financial self interests of a few specialists. The Government will continue to make decisions based on the needs of the entire community."

Indigenous blindness six times higher than mainstream Australia PDF
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Australian News
Friday, 02 October 2009
Sixty per cent of the population in Australia's remote communities are still affected by the eye disease Trachoma, a century after it was eradicated in most developing countries. Blindness rates in Indigenous adults are six times the rates in the rest of Australia. The figures come from the first comprehensive survey of Indigenous eye health in three decades.

The Governor-General Quentin Bryce launched the survey in Melbourne this week. The co-author of the survey says it's a national disgrace, because more than 94 per cent of vision loss associated with eye diseases is preventable or treatable.
Successful eye surgery week held in Central Australia PDF
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Australian News
Thursday, 01 October 2009

A week of intensive eye surgery, coordinated by The Fred Hollows Foundation, had been up and running for a week during the month of September with as many as 60 operations performed.

People from towns and communities such as Docker River, Tennant Creek, Elliot and Mutitjulu received vital eye operations at Alice Springs Hospital as part of The Central Australian Integrated Eye Health Program.

The surgical team was being led by Alice Springs ophthalmologist Dr Tim Henderson and included Dr Cliff Fairley, the husband of Susie O'Neill, an Ambassador for The Fred Hollows Foundation. This was the eighth intensive eye surgery week in Central Australia since 2007. In 2008, 470 eye surgeries were carried out in Alice Springs - over 170 during intensive eye surgery weeks.

These weeks are a partnership between The Australian Government, The Northern Territory Government, Central Australian Aboriginal Congress, Anyinginyi Health Aboriginal Corporation, The Eye Foundation and The Fred Hollows Foundation.

Federal Government accuses ophthalmologists of running a "dishonest scare campaign" PDF
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Australian News
Wednesday, 30 September 2009
The federal government has accused ophthalmologists of running a "dishonest scare campaign" over its plans to slash Medicare rebates for cataract surgery, in a new advertising pitch to win public support for the move. In a hard-hitting attack advertisement released on the internet yesterday, the government insisted new technology had made cataract surgery quicker and cheaper, yet despite now taking just 15 minutes instead of one hour "some ophthalmologists still want to unfairly charge what they used to".

"The campaign ... is about a few specialists who can't see beyond their own financial self-interest," the advertisement concludes, against a soundtrack of ringing cash tills. The advertisement threatens to pour petrol onto an already smouldering dispute between the government and the ophthalmology profession, which responded to the Medicare cuts by placing advertisements in The Australian claiming the government was "blind to the facts".

But it may also be designed to change the positions of independent senators Nick Xenophon and Steve Fielding, who earlier this month said they would side with the opposition in a disallowance motion in the Senate to prevent the rebate cut going through. If either of the two independent senators sides with the opposition, the regulations introducing the cuts will fall.

The reductions, announced alongside other deep cuts to Medicare in the May federal budget, will see a commonly-used Medicare rebate for cataract surgery slashed by 50 per cent from $831.60 to $409.60, from November 1. The government says new technology has allowed the operation to be done much more quickly and cheaply than before and the old rebate is no longer justified. In addition, it has released data showing the highest 10 per cent of eye specialists earned more than $1.8 million each last year -- $1m of it through Medicare rebates.

The government has received backing from the Consumers Health Forum, which yesterday said the ophthalmologists' campaign reflected what happened "if a health minister stands between a medical specialist and their Medicare entitlement". But ophthalmologists counter that the cataract surgery rebate has already been slashed on previous occasions, and cutting it further will force patients who can afford it to pay more for their surgery through bigger out-of-pocket bills.

Those who cannot pay the hundreds of dollars' difference between the new rebate and the doctor's fee will be forced into the public system where they will have to wait longer for treatment, they claim.

The advertisement has been released on the ALP website, the video-sharing site YouTube and has also been emailed to Labor supporters. The party has not ruled out buying advertising space on commercial TV channels to run the 45-second spot. ALP national secretary Karl Bitar said the ad was designed to "highlight the facts".

However Australian Medical Assocation president Andrew Pesce condemned the ad as a "blatant ideological slur on doctors" and defended the previous advertisements run by eye surgeons as an "education campaign".

Vision Group institutes proceedings against ophthalmologist PDF
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Australian News
Tuesday, 29 September 2009

Vision Group has instituted proceedings against Dr Kitchen in the Supreme Court of Queensland regarding what it considers to be Dr Kitchen's wrongful termination of his service agreement with Vision Group.

The matter is now before the Court and Vision Group does not intend to make any further comment.

New appointments at the National Optometry Board PDF
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Australian News
Thursday, 24 September 2009
Colin Waldron has been appointed chairman of the inaugural National Optometry Board, which comprises six practitioner members; Colin Waldron, Ian Bluntish, John Davis, Jane Duffy, Derek Fails and Garry Fitzpatrick, and three community members; Judith Dikstein, Peta Frampton and Lawson Lobb. The appointments have been announced to prepare for implementation of the National Registration and Accreditation Scheme for Health Professions starting 1 July 2010.
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