Meet the minister who’d go blind if the proposed Medicare cut gets the green light
Ninety-year-old Pastor Ron Clarke OAM leads a busy life that would exhaust anyone half his age. But if the cost of his sight-saving injections for age-related macular degeneration (AMD) were to rise, he would go blind.
Pastor Ron has had anti-VEGF eye injections every four weeks for 12 years. The cost is just manageable with some belt-tightening, and worth it to maintain his global internet ministry to more than 3,000 subscribers.
The Queensland minister is concerned that a proposal to slash Medicare rebates for eye injections by 69 per cent would put his sight-saving treatment out of financial reach, forcing him to go blind.
I’d be in big trouble. I don’t know how I’d manage.Pastor Ron
“My ministry and activity on the internet depends on my sight. It’s my life. If I lose that I may as well give up and move into a residential nursing home.”
Pastor Ron wouldn’t be alone.
Analysis commissioned by Macular Disease Foundation Australia (MDFA) shows an additional 47,000 Australians will have severe vision loss or blindness if the proposed 69 per cent rebate cut for eye injections is approved by the Federal Government.
This would be a direct result of people giving up treatment due to the burden of extra out-of-pocket costs.
It’s a situation described as “hard to fathom” by MDFA Patron Ita Buttrose AC OBE in a landmark address to the National Press Club.
The big picture of a rebate cut
The Federal Government is considering the report of the Medicare Benefits Schedule (MBS) Review Taskforce for Ophthalmology, submitted in December 2020. The report contains 19 recommendations, some of which are supported by MDFA.
Eye injections are currently covered by Medicare. But despite this, annual out-of-pocket treatment costs still average approximately $1,900. Surveys conducted by MDFA suggest this already prohibits access to this treatment for many. In fact, 29 per cent of those currently receiving treatment consider delaying or stopping it due to cost.
If the Government approves the 69 per cent Medicare rebate cut, out-of-pocket fees will jump to approximately $3,900 annually.
Our modelling, conducted by PwC, predicts the fee increase will lead to an additional 47,000 people giving up treatment over five years.
That’s an additional 47,000 Australians who will risk going blind or experience irreversible severe vision loss – including Pastor Ron.
“This treatment has kept me out of full-time care, which would cost the government far more than the (Medicare) subsidies for maintaining my sight. Tampering with things that actually keep us out of residential home care is simply not common sense.”
Essential medical treatment
Pastor Ron has lived for most of his life with only 15-20 per cent vision in his left eye, relying on good vision in his right eye.
Twelve years ago, he was diagnosed with wet AMD in that good eye and now has injections every four weeks.
Pastor Ron says even with the current subsidies, his out-of-pocket costs add up to more than $2,000 a year. It’s a cost he can only just manage but pays because the injections maintain his sight, and that’s crucial to his lifestyle and ability to help other people.
Despite his AMD and other health issues, including a poor sense of balance caused by only having sight in one eye, the 90-year-old maintains an impressive schedule.
He’s been in ministry for more than 45 years.
In 2004, he was awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM) in the Queen’s Birthday Honours list for assisting seniors with information technology.
In 2006, he was featured in the Federal Government’s 2006 publication ‘Inspiring Not Retiring’. The book honours the lives and achievements of those Australians who were nominees for the 2005 National Australia Day Council Senior Australian of the Year Award.
Despite officially retiring in 2015, he maintains a worldwide weekly internet ministry to more than 3,000 subscribers, which is now in its 26th year.
But his pastoral duties also extend to his community’s youngest members, with Pastor Ron also leading regular visits by senior citizens to the local pre-school.
“We go once or twice a week and do craft with the children. We play games. It’s good for us and it’s good for them. But I wouldn’t be able to do it without my sight,” Pastor Ron says.
“I have reasonably good vision after treatment. I need large print and I have my computer monitors set up for large print screens.”
He says if the Medicare rebate cut is approved by the Federal Government, he would be in “big trouble”.
“If I lose that access to treatment, I will lose my sight. I may as well give up and move into a residential nursing home,” Pastor Ron says.
PwC (2019). Impact of IVI rebate changes
Posted: 23 March 2022