Blind spot: Risk of sight loss for older Australians rises

Peter Terlato 30 January 2017

Up to 100,000 Australians aren't receiving adequate treatment.

A new report has found evidence that 100,000 older Australians with vision loss, impairment or blindness are missing out on much-needed technological aids and assistance, mostly as a result of high costs.

In collaboration with The George Institute for Global Health, the Macular Disease Foundation Australia have released a report, Low vision, quality of life and independence: A review of the evidence on aids and technologies, which shows affordable equipment programs are far and few between in Australia.

As we get older our eyesight, along with a bunch of other body parts and functions, becomes progressively worse but this trend seems to be more of a problem for Australian women than men.

To maintain their quality of life, older Aussies with sight problems need access to these low vision aids.

Aside from high costs the report outlined other barriers to access including inadequate referral pathways, poor management cooperation between eye care specialists and low vision services and a lack of necessary consumer information and knowledge sharing.

Medicare subsidises the cost of a low vision assessment performed by an eye care practitioner. However, the uptake of claims for assessments has been in steady decline for many years, despite the increased need among Australia's ageing population.

The report highlights a lack of confidence by optometrists to provide low vision services and inadequate remuneration for time needed to undertake low vision assessments and subsequent prescriptions.

Despite near universal coverage of hearing aids and glasses, funding of low vision aids and technologies by private health insurers in "extras" policies is fickle and often limited in scale, according to the report.

Australian private health fund coverage of low vision aids (2014)

Private health fundBenefitLimitWaiting periodClaim requirement
Bupa$45-$90$150-$300 per person, per annum2 monthsLetter from eye care practioner
NIB60%-75% of low vision aid cost$250-$500 (every three years)12 monthsLetter from eye care practioner or occupational therapist
HCF$75-$500 limited magnifying devices only$500-$575 (every three years)12 monthsLetter from eye care practioner or occupational therapist
Australian Unity60%-80% of low vision aid cost$150-$300 per person, per annum6 monthsLetter from eye care practioner
HBFNilNilN/AN/A
Medibank PrivateNilNilN/AN/A

The report also states people experience self-denial regarding vision loss. A study analysing low vision patient pathways found 37% of patients who had declined referral to a low vision service had done so because they either felt the service was not needed, or it would not help.

Based upon a series of market assumptions, the Macular Disease Foundation Australia developed an initial cost estimate of an affordable and easily accessible federally funded program offering low vision aids and technologies to those with poor vision or blindness.

The estimate settled on an annual allowance of between $667 and $2,400 per person, dependent on vision. This would result in an annual program cost of between $30 million and $49 million.

Vision Initiative estimates over 800,000 Australians will be blind or vision impaired by 2020.

In November last year, one of Australia's big four banks, ANZ, became the first Australian financial institution to design bank cards which better assist vision-impaired customers.

Find out how you can get optometry and eye care covered by your health fund.

Latest health insurance headlines

Picture: Shutterstock

Compare health insurance on finder.com.au

Ask a Question

You are about to post a question on finder.com.au

  • Do not enter personal information (eg. surname, phone number, bank details) as your question will be made public
  • finder.com.au is a financial comparison and information service, not a bank or product provider
  • We cannot provide you with personal advice or recommendations
  • Your answer might already be waiting – check previous questions below to see if yours has already been asked

Disclaimer: At finder.com.au we provide factual information and general advice. Before you make any decision about a product read the Product Disclosure Statement and consider your own circumstances to decide whether it is appropriate for you.
Rates and fees mentioned in comments are correct at the time of publication.
By submitting this question you agree to the finder.com.au privacy policy, receive follow up emails related to finder.com.au and to create a user account where further replies to your questions will be sent.

Ask a question
feedback