“I can now get on with life and not have to worry about the cost of maintaining my eyesight”
Both the Government and the Opposition reject an independent recommendation to cut the Medicare rebate for sight-saving eye injections, which threatened to blind 47,000 Australians.
Both major political parties have rejected an independent proposal by the Medicare Benefits Scheme Taskforce to cut the Medicare rebate for eye injections – a major win for thousands of macular disease patients who rely on this treatment to retain their sight.
One in seven Australians over the age of 50 have signs of age-related macular degeneration (AMD), and the incidence increases with age.
Since the recommendation was drafted by the Taskforce in 2020, MDFA has engaged with both the Government and the Opposition and shared a commissioned economic modelling report.
The modelling showed that current out-of-pocket costs would result in 47,000 Australians experiencing permanent vision loss or blindness.
And both sides of politics listened, committing to rejecting the proposed cut when either party forms the next Government after this month’s Election.
Sharing consumer stories from every corner of the country, MDFA’s campaign against the cut gave a strong voice to the 47,000 Australians who would have been staring at blindness if the Medicare rebate was reduced.
Mike from Sydney lives with wet AMD. But the 77-year-old can still work, drive, surf and play golf – with eyesight good enough to spot whether his brother is sneaking an extra shot! – thanks to regular treatment.
Without eye injections, Mike’s eye doctor told him he’d be blind by now. And if he could no longer afford treatment, that’s the fate he’s staring at.
“The injections have worked very well, and I am extremely grateful for the medicine and the Government support through Medicare,” Mike says.
“The downside is they are expensive.”
That’s why Mike was alarmed when the independent Medicare Benefits Schedule Review Taskforce for Ophthalmology recommended a 69 per cent cut to the Medicare rebate for sight-saving eye injections.
Economic modelling commissioned by MDFA estimated that the proposed cut would cause wet AMD patients’ average out-of-pocket costs to balloon from $1900 to $3900 a year – double if they received injections in both eyes.1
This extra out-of-pocket cost was estimated to force 47,000 Australians like Mike to give up treatment over a five-year period1 – and when you stop receiving injections, you risk going blind.
However, both major parties have now committed to rejecting the recommended cut if they win office after the Federal Election.
“I am so happy. I am so relieved, and I’m so pleased for all those other 47,000 that had the potential to be in real trouble,” Mike says.
“If both parties had not committed to maintaining the current rebate, I would have definitely had to make a decision to stop my treatment when I stopped work, because I would have to look after my wife’s medical problems as a priority.
I can now get on with life and not have to worry about the cost of maintaining my eyesight.Mike, from Cronulla
“Down the track, I think I’ll find a way to continue treatment even when I stop work.”
A 2020 MDFA patient survey revealed 29 per cent of respondents receiving eye injections have considered delaying or stopping treatment due to cost, while 35 per cent have cut down on expenses like food, medicine and even mortgage payments to afford them.
People like Mike should not have to choose between buying groceries and going blind.
But in a major win for the macular disease community, Health Minister Greg Hunt and Shadow Health Minister Mark Butler both confirmed that their parties will not consider the recommendation to cut the Medicare rebate for eye injections when either form the next Government.
“Thank you to both the Government and the Opposition for agreeing to save the rebate. That is good decision, whichever way you want to look at it,” Mike says.
“And congratulations to Macular Disease Foundation Australia, who have pushed and pushed and come up with an absolutely tremendous result. The benefit to all is just incredible.”
Mike is relieved the proposed rebate cut has been taken off the table after advocacy from MDFA.
Canberra has listened to Mike and 47,000 other Australians like him – and now the active 77-year-old can get on with living his life.
“I’m a happy camper at the moment,” he says.
“I’ve got good eyesight. My lifestyle hasn’t changed. I can play golf and I can see if my brother’s picking up the ball or taking an extra shot! And I can go surfing.
“I can do whatever I want. And I’d like to be able to do that until the big curtain.”
Posted: 3 May 2022
PwC (2019). Impact of IVI rebate changes
MDFA undertakes advocacy work in accordance with its charitable purpose and in accordance with the guidelines set by the Australian Charities and Not for Profit Commission and complies with relevant legislation. MDFA is not aligned to any political party and works with both the Government of the day and the Opposition and always maintains our independence.