How a device the size of a third of an eyelash can save your sight… and how a recent decision means equal access to this for everyone.
This year the Federal Government has finally given approval for Medicare rebates for people needing MIGS (minimally invasive glaucoma) surgery to treat glaucoma, but who do not require surgery for cataracts at the same time. In doing so, Australia now leads the world as the first country to have this latest technology available for all patients, in both public and private health systems.
“This decision means that thousands of Australians will now have access to sight-saving surgery that was previously denied to them. It is imperative that Medicare rebates are determined by patient needs, and we are so glad to have been able to secure this decision” – Dr Ashish Agar, Vice President, Australian Society of Ophthalmologists (ASO).
Minimally invasive glaucoma surgery (MIGS) involves implanting a tiny stent-like device into the patient’s eye to treat glaucoma by lowering pressure and prevent potential blindness.
After its introduction in 2014 this new technology was covered by Medicare. In May 2017 a change in legislation to save money meant that MIGS surgery was no longer available under Medicare, depriving the majority of Australians of the latest technology to save their sight.
The ASO lead a lobbying effort joined by patient support groups and professional and scientific bodies to reverse the cutbacks. In 2018 they managed to restore access to MIGS surgery, but it was only a partial success. The surgery was funded only if the patient was also receiving cataract surgery at the same time. There was no rebate available to patients for MIGS as a stand-alone procedure.
“The reality is that a large number of elderly people have already had cataract operations and therefore weren’t covered. Others, especially younger patients, didn’t need cataract operations but did need glaucoma stents. Both of these populations weren’t covered at all. Factors other than what the patient clinically needed came to the fore. Now the patient is the main determinant – as it should be, ” says Dr Agar, a glaucoma surgeon from the Prince of Wales Hospital in Sydney.
This recent decision follows years of extensive lobbying by the ASO, one of Australia’s peak medico-political bodies, fighting for the rights of patients in both public and private health sectors.
Dr Agar added: “We would like to thank all the groups who have been advocating for glaucoma patients, such as Glaucoma Australia, and also acknowledge the support of Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt, in achieving this outcome”.
Glaucoma is the leading cause of irreversible blindness in the world and affects over 300, 000 people in Australia. Glaucoma has virtually no symptoms or warning signs and can only be detected early by regular eye examinations which include optic nerve checks.
Dr Ashish Agar is available for interview
For further information, please contact Sally Symonds, Manager, Media & Communications ASO – 0417 727 625