A former federal health minister, Ms Nicola Roxon, has been appointed chairman of private health insurance fund Bupa in Australia and New Zealand.
Bupa ANZ is a wholly-owned subsidiary of British United Provident Association Limited, contributing 40 per cent of its parent company’s total revenue and total pre-tax profit.
Ms Roxon was health minister when the then government reduced the Medicare fee for cataract surgery in 2009, saying the government did “not want to pick a fight with specialists but we have to stand up for patients and taxpayers.”
Also, that “improvements in technology have made this life-improving surgery quicker and less expensive. We believe patients and taxpayers, not specialists earning on average half a million dollars a year, should reap the benefits of these improvements.”
Not long afterwards, Ms Roxon was moved to be attorney-general in a re-shuffle of federal ministers.
The decision slashed the Medicare fee for cataract surgery from $831.60 to $416. As Medicare paid a rebate of only 75 per cent of the fee for in-hospital procedures, the new rebate became $312, instead of $623.70.
Medicare rebates for cataract surgery had already been reduced twice, first by 32 per cent in 1987 and by a further 10 per cent in 1996, to take account of the efficiencies of new techniques, particularly phaco-emulsification.
The government sought to shore up support for its plan to slash payments for cataract surgery, releasing a hard-hitting internet video claiming opchthalmologists were motivated by financial self-interest in seeking to derail the changes.
The move exacerbated the government’s clash with ophthalmologists, who claimed the 45-second segment was propaganda and that modern technology had not speeded up cataract surgery to the degree the government claimed.
They also said that the average ophthalmologist carries out just four to six cataract operations a week – far fewer than the 20 each morning that the government claimed a few specialists had been performing – and the new payment would leave them with just $52 in take-home pay for restoring a patient’s sight.
The Australian Society of Ophthalmologists led the charge against the new fees, which were eventually returned to former levels.