Ita Buttrose warns proposed Medicare cut could blind 47,000 Aussies

An additional 47,000 Australians will experience severe vision loss or blindness if the Federal Government approves a proposed cut to the Medicare rebate for sight-saving eye injections, according to data released by Ita Buttrose AC OBE on behalf of Macular Disease Foundation Australian (MDFA).

The Medicare Benefit Schedule (MBS) Review Taskforce has recommended a 69 per cent reduction in the rebate for eye injections, used to treat several blinding conditions, including wet age-related macular degeneration (AMD).

Speaking at the National Press Club in Canberra Ms Buttrose warned that many older Australians will no longer be able to afford this vital treatment if the Government adopts this recommendation.

Australia is a world leader in the treatment of wet AMD. Patients receive injections to the eye every four to six weeks for an indefinite period, meaning costs can stack up.

“This treatment is highly successful in saving sight,” Ms Buttrose said. “So why has the review taskforce recommended a reduction of 69 per cent in the rebate for these eye injections?

“It’s a decision I find hard to fathom.” Ita Buttrose

Ms Buttrose made the comments during the inaugural Ita Buttrose Oration, an initiative of MDFA. The speech will be part of an ongoing series presenting visions for a healthy ageing Australia. This inaugural Oration coincides with MDFA’s 20th anniversary and Macula Month – MDFA’s annual general awareness campaign held each May.

The MBS review taskforce’s proposal to slash the rebate for eye injections was one of 19 recommendations in a report to the Federal Government delivered in late 2019. It is still under consideration.

Ms Buttrose used the address to call on the Government to reject the recommendation, and to consider MDFA’s fully costed plans to improve access to sight-saving treatment.

Currently, approximately 80,000 vulnerable Australians stop eye injection treatment within five years. While there are many reasons for this, access and cost are two of the primary ones.

“Out-of-pocket costs for this treatment are already prohibitive.   

“Economic modelling commissioned by MDFA, predicts the proposed rebate cut will result in out-of-pocket costs increasing from $1,900 to $3,900 a year on average – double for patients needing injections in both eyes.

“This translates to an additional 47,000 Australians experiencing severe vision loss and blindness within the next five years.”

“This rebate reduction, if approved, will deliver some savings to Government, but will effectively be cost shifting to other parts of the health and welfare system”.

“MDFA’s economic modelling forecasts an extra $168 million in direct costs to Government in primary health, mental health care and early admissions to residential aged care. It’s estimated the proposed rebate cut would also lead to an additional $2.6 billion in indirect costs through loss of patient and family carer productivity.”

In response to the MBS Taskforce proposal, MDFA has developed three costed solutions to increase access to sight-saving treatment. These models can be implemented immediately by leveraging existing systems and infrastructure:

  • new low cost-regional clinics, so patients can access treatment without needing to travel to metropolitan clinics that are already at capacity,
  • increasing the number of healthcare workers who can give injections under the supervision of qualified ophthalmologists,
  • empowering patients to be better informed about fees so they can self-advocate if they can’t afford treatment.

“These models need both Federal and State Government investment. But the cost of doing nothing is much higher. Every 1,000 wet AMD patients left untreated costs the health system $20 million a year,” Ms Buttrose said. “Today, on behalf of MDFA, I call on the Government to reject the recommendation to cut the MBS rebate for eye injections.

“We also ask ophthalmologists to work with the Federal and State Governments, and MDFA representing patients, to increase access to public and bulk-billed treatment in more locations across Australia.

“We simply cannot accept an Australia where we have a gold standard treatment to stop people from going blind, yet there are some Australians who can’t access it. Australians at risk of losing their vision can’t wait any longer – action is needed now.”

Source: About Macular Disease Foundation Australia (MDFA)

MDFA is the peak national body representing the voice of the macular disease community and is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year. We provide a range of information and support services via our National Helpline 1800 111 709 and websites at and

About the Ita Buttrose Oration

The Ita Buttrose Oration is an initiative of Macular Disease Foundation Australia, designed to address a range of issues around a vision for a health ageing Australia. The inaugural Oration was presented by Ita Buttrose AC OBE at the National Press Club in Canberra on 5 May 2021, coinciding with the 20th anniversary of MDFA.

O=MEGA 21 – Finally Bringing the Industry together

After a year of Event cancellations, ODMA and Optometry Victoria are looking forward to bringing O=MEGA21 to Melbourne in September. Understandably, there may be some apprehension around attending an event after the lockdowns 2020.

However, this event is being held at the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre and a Victorian Government approved COVID safe venue.

Yet despite the disruption caused by COVID the industry’s confidence in its own event O=MEGA21 presented by ODMA and Optometry Victoria/South Australia, was confirmed when within 48 hours of launching the floorplan the fair has virtually sold out.  To find out about the limited opportunities left for exhibitors and sponsors please contact 

The Optical Industry have missed so many events over the last 18 months, and by September, the industry will be ready to be on display again. The majority of the industry understand that the COVID risk is diminishing, and the Government is continually monitoring and controlling any outbreaks.

This year we welcome back exhibitors such as De Rigo, Safilo, Optiqueline, Rodenstock, ZEISS, Hoya, Optos, Optimed, BOC, Device Technologies, Van Staveren Eyewear, Good Optical, Aarons Eyewear, and Designs For Vision, to name a few, we also are glad to have new entrants to the market such as Marcolin join us. 

The conference launched on April 1st with early bird pricing and OVSA are delivering a strong program to meet all the new guidelines and maximise your time. The masterclass and Knowledge centre education programs will follow. Please note veteran TAFE optical dispensing teacher Steve Daras will headline those sessions. 

O=MEGA21 will be a face to face conference and exhibition with no virtual component – so start making plans now to block out the time to attend. 

Australians are safe to travel interstate, to New Zealand, go to venues and lead everyday lives. That combined with the vaccine rollout, Australia is a very safe place to be. With everyday lives returning, this also enables Events to return. We are excited to see events happening for all industries in every state happen as industries reawaken, and in September, it is the Optical Industry’s turn too.

All of these factors have made us confident in bringing O=MEGA21 and the industry together.

ODMA CEO Finola Carey met with MCEC, who have devised a VenueSafe Plan designed to reassure people that MCEC is ready to operate a safe environment with scalable control measures to ensure certainty in this changing environment. All employees, visitors, customers and contractors can have the utmost confidence that MCEC has developed an intelligence-led VenueSafe Plan, in consultation with industry experts, that employs risk mitigation principles to ensure the health and safety of all.

Throw into the mix a culture of monitoring, responding to danger signals before they result in harm.

• Check proof of registration at venue entry

 • Support visitors where required throughout the venue

MCEC supports and encourages the use of the Australian Government’s COVIDSafe mobile app. The app helps health authority contact tracers identify people who may have been exposed to

Additional Information

Business Events Grants for exhibitors and delegates to OMEGA21  
Please take note of the following Business Event Grant Info:
 The good news is that the Business Events Grant program applications are extended to 30 June 2021.  
On 11 March 2021 the Australian Government announced an extension to the Business Events Grant program. The current program closed yesterday 30 March 2021 but will re-open mid-April 2021 when the website will be updated.
Current details here but this will be updated mid-April
For Exhibitors & Delegates If you have not already applied wait till mid-April and apply if your expenditure is over $10K  For Delegates/Visitors
– If your expenditure is less than $10K you are not eligible so make sure you combine all the practice members attending in one application
– Minimum spend will be $10K for a grant of up to 50% of this
– The Grant will be paid on execution of the Grant Agreement.
– Grants will be audited so you need receipts to prove expenditure although in the application process quotes and invoices seem to suffice.
Remember when they have allocated the full $50m there will be no more grants so first in first served  This is NOT legal advice – it is provided to assist you make a grant application.
Book the half-price flights offered by Government to O=MEGA21 (AVALON)
The flight sale will kick off on April 1 and end on July 31, 2021.

Travel dates for the half-price fares are between May and September 2021.

800,000 tickets in total will be sold at half price – which breaks down to around 46,000 half-price tickets available per week for the 13 destinations.

Qantas, Virgin Australia and Jetstar are all on board to sell tickets at half price. Other smaller operators may opt in on the serviced routes chosen by the government, such as REX, but they must have been running the route for at least two years.

To be eligible for the discount, customers must book through the airline’s website. So for Qantas, visit here. For Virgin Australia, visit here. And for Jetstar, visit here.
No. Half-price fares only apply to those travelling interstate and those flying directly to the nominated destinations (Sydney and Melbourne residents, for example, won’t get half-price fares to Kangaroo Island, as there are no direct flights from the cities).


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