The Australian Society of Ophthalmologists is claiming that its deal with the Feds over cuts to the cataract surgery rebate is a victory for patients.
Croakey is particularly taken by the line in their media statement that says: “The ASO has always argued that the interests of patients should be the primary consideration ”.
But of course! (Naturally, Croakey does believe everything that she reads.)
The Consumers Health Forum, however, has quite a different take on the whole issue, arguing that the ophthalmologists and the medical colleges more broadly may ultimately prove to be the losers of what has been “an exploitative industrial campaign”.
Executive director Carol Bennett, who has previously written for Croakey on this issue, writes:
“Ophthalmologists are claiming victory over the Health Minister with the compromise agreement reached last week on cataract rebates.
At best, these victory claims are industrial spin, and at worse, they perpetuate the same misrepresentation that has underpinned the ophthalmologists’ entire industrial campaign against the Australian government, health consumers and all Australian taxpayers.
I do not know of many unionists who would see a 12.5% reduction in subsidies for their work as a good outcome.
Ophthalmologists are also faced with a major review of ophthalmology rebates and entitlements under Medicare.
Make no mistake – for health consumers, this review will be an opportunity to seriously question the rebates ophthalmologists are able to command for 15 minute procedures and associated follow up consultations. It is an opportunity health consumer groups will not miss after seeing vulnerable seniors paraded in the media to depict the government as cruel when it is the ophthalmologists who determine how much seniors pay for their cataract procedures.
Perhaps more importantly, ophthalmologists have now lost credibility by adopting an exploitative industrial campaign to what the evidence from Australia and overseas tell us was a justified government decision. Even the seniors’ organisations used in the media battles appear to have dropped their support for the ophthalmologists’ campaign.
It appears as though the AMA may also have lost some credibility through its public backing of what many other health professionals see as a self serving Royal College seeking to maintain their exceptional incomes at the expense of Australian taxpayers and health consumers.
It is these kinds of ego and income driven campaigns by self serving specialist health professionals that may ultimately challenge the merit of the closed shop Royal College system.
During the campaign, the government must have seriously considered recruiting ophthalmologists from overseas who were prepared to work for a measly few hundred thousand dollars a year. Needless to say, actual figures on how much Australian ophthalmologists currently earn remain completely unattainable, although the whole campaign was clearly about their incomes.
Medicare is unsustainable if Australian taxpayers continue to have to fund relatively quick and straight forward procedures at a level that generates thousands of dollars daily in costs courtesy of over-generous Medicare rebates.
We can only hope the negative attention generated by the ophthalmologist’s campaign will bring some measure of reason to the table as all Medicare rebates are reviewed over the next two years.”