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    The sight of 47,000 older Australians has been saved

    "Both the Government and Opposition have listened to the needs of the macular disease community."

    Portrait of Ita Buttrose

    Eye injections save Gerald’s sight, and now thanks to both major parties’ commitment to reject an independent Taskforce recommendation to cut the Medicare rebate for sight-saving eye injections, an additional 47,000 older Australians will keep their vision too.

    Gerald Buttrose, known as ‘Uncle Gerald’ by his niece and long-time Macular Disease Foundation Australia Patron Ita Buttrose AC OBE, has wet (neovascular) age-related macular degeneration (wet AMD).

    Thanks to the arrival of intravitreal anti-VEGF injections in Australia 15 years ago, Gerald has had a different experience than his older brother Charles, who lost his eyesight to wet AMD before treatment was available.

    Gerald has received more than 100 anti-VEGF injections since being diagnosed with wet AMD in 2008, within 12 months of this breakthrough treatment becoming available to Australian patients.

    Eye injections have been so effective for Ita’s uncle Gerald, in fact, that he still reads the Sydney Morning Herald every day, at the age of 98.

    “I’m quite happy to do it – I’ll take 200 injections if I can keep my eyesight,” Gerald says. “It’s worthwhile because your vision is so important.”

    His first sign of macular disease came when he was driving with his wife Colleen, and he noticed the white lines on the road appeared wavy.

    As the youngest of seven siblings – four of whom developed AMD – Gerald knew to seek urgent treatment.

    Within 24 hours, I was in a doctor’s office – I made sure of that – and he gave me the first injection.

    Gerald Buttrose

    Before he passed away in 1999, Gerald’s brother Charles was a seasoned journalist and avid reader – much like his daughter Ita.

    So when Ita witnessed her father contorting the newspaper above his head in a bid to read the small print with his peripheral vision, she knew macular disease had robbed Charles of one of his great joys in his autumn years.

    Unlike his brother, regular eye injections have slowed the progression of the disease and preserved Gerald’s eyesight well into his 90s.

    Now aged 98, Gerald can still recognise the faces of his many children and grandchildren, read the newspaper every morning, and even write books of his own – he published a World War Two novel ‘The Third Movement’ only last year.

    However, this sight-saving treatment is too expensive for many Australians.

    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.

    That’s why thousands of Australians who rely on this life-changing treatment were alarmed by the independent Medicare Benefits Scheme Review Taskforce proposal to cut the Medicare rebate for eye injections by 69 per cent.

    The average patient already pays $1,900 in out-of-pocket expenses a year – double if they need injections in both eyes – according to economic modelling commissioned by MDFA.

    If the rebate was cut by 69 per cent, the modelling calculated annual out-of-pocket costs would more than double – and the extra cost would force 47,000 patients to give up treatment and risk going blind over a five-year period.

    Since the Taskforce recommended cutting the rebate in 2020, MDFA has continuously raised patients’ concerns about the proposed Medicare rebate cut with both sides of politics – amplified at the inaugural televised Ita Buttrose Oration at the National Press Club in Canberra in 2021.

    Now, 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 this recommendation regardless of which party forms the next Government.

    “Thank you to the two major parties for their decision to help older Australians,” Ita says.

    “Both the Government and Opposition have listened to the needs of the macular disease community. This decision means so much to every Australian who depends on this treatment to save their sight.

    “We simply could not accept an Australia where we have a gold standard treatment to stop people from going blind, and this decision is a step in the right direction to retain access to treatment for vulnerable older Australians.”

    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.

    Posted: 4 May 2022

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