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16 September 2009

Nicola Roxon has been forced into another back-flip – today withdrawing treatment for macular degeneration from proposed caps to the Extended Medicare Safety Net.

Sufferers of macular degeneration had feared the Rudd Government’s safety net caps would make their treatment unaffordable with the result that some would go blind.

 After extensive Coalition pressure, the Health Minister gave in to concerns about the impact of the safety net caps with the Government announcing that the macular degeneration item would be removed from legislation before the Senate today.

Shadow Health Minister Peter Dutton and Parliamentary Secretary for Health Administration Senator Mathias Cormann welcomed the Government’s decision.

“This is great news for the estimated 17,000 Australians who develop macular degeneration each year,” Mr Dutton said.

“This was a sensible withdrawal of a measure that had the capacity to inflict great anxiety on many people, particularly older Australians, not to mention the severe health impacts if people could no longer afford treatment,” Senator Cormann added

“I’m glad Nicola Roxon finally realised that a saving of $4 million a year that would be made by capping rebates for macular degeneration treatment was not worth the anguish sufferers would go through worrying that the result for them might be blindness,” Mr Dutton said.

Macular degeneration is the leading cause of blindness in Australia, affecting one in seven Australians over the age of 50. It is responsible for 48% of cases of severe vision loss.

Under the Government’s caps to the Extended Medicare Safety Net, re-imbursement for  treatment, which involves an injection of the drug Lucentis into the eye at regular intervals, would have fallen from an average $236.20 per treatment to just $80.

The Government’s change of mind on macular degeneration follows its back flip on caps on IVF treatments.

Increases in Medicare rebates, in the caps and addition of new Medicare items now mean those seeking IVF treatment will not be forced to pay thousands more in out-of-pocket expenses.

The Government’s caps on obstetrics have also been called into question and Mr Dutton today called on the Minister to negotiate and consult with obstetricians to avoid women facing almost $1000 more in costs during pregnancy.

The Coalition today won cross bench Senators support to amend the Extended Medicare Safety Net changes so that the Rudd Government must seek parliamentary approval to make any changes in future.

“This is an important safeguard for patients across Australia who rely on the protection of the safety net to ensure affordable access to quality health care,” Senator Cormann said.

Posted in: Media Releases
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