Tuesday, 6 August 2013

Open Your Eyes, Part 2

My previous post discussed my fatalistic journey into, out of, and again into the world of artificially supported vision aids (aka prescription glasses). This post will continue the discussion of my re-entry into the optical world through a discussion on how I got to have the glasses I am now wearing.
You may find this discussion tedious and boring, but I will still the facts with you. The reason is simple: I would like to try and point out, once again, at deficiencies in the Australian health system. Specifically, I would like to show how this system – which in general claims to be starved of funds – grossly abuses us, the funders of this system and those who are supposed to be its main beneficiaries.

It starts off with the prescription. Unlike Israel, where you see an eye specialist doctor to determine the right course of action, Australia has you going directly to the optometrist for a bulk billed eye test. I guess that takes a lot of unnecessary load from the shoulders of the true experts, but it does mean commercial interests are involved with medical proceedings.
I'll give you my example: I did my eye test at Specsavers. In my opinion, they seem to be doing a good, professional, job of it. However, at the end of my appointment, when I asked to receive my prescription in writing, the guys at the shop were left mumbling. Eventually, after a pause too long for comfort, I was told I would have to wait half an hour to get it because the optometrist is on his next appointment and he "would have to sign it".
"Oh, but don't worry, we can have it posted to you and you will receive it tomorrow". That was fine by me, so I left; to date I am still yet to receive the prescription they claim to have posted me.
The next week I returned to ask for my prescription again. Again, I was told I'd have to wait half an hour; I was ready this time around - I waited. I used the opportunity to ask why I haven't received the prescription by mail; they claimed to have checked their outgoing stuff and assured me mine was not there (yeah, right). Anyway, half an hour later they got some other optometrist to sign my prescription off and I was on my way.
Great customer service. If I was naive I would think they were trying to force me to buy my prescription glasses from them.

So why didn't I buy my prescription glasses from Specsavers? I admit, they are cheaper than the competition I got to check out. However, there is another element to the equation: private health.
The whole prescription glasses circus seems to have been rigged around private health. The shops that sell us glasses know most of us have private health insurance policies that give us the bulk of the cost back, so they adjust their offerings accordingly. We think it's great and all, with us having to pay relatively small out of pocket fees; the reality, however, is that we are all being sucked out of our wallets by health funds that raise their fees significantly more than the CPI each year. Why not, they would argue: governments on both sides have supported them doing so on a regular basis.
Things came down to a simple equation for me. I could either get two fine pairs of prescription glasses through a Specsavers package deal or one pair of expensive Oakley "designer" glasses at OPSM for about $100 more. But... The anti glare coating I deemed necessary, by virtue of the fact my glasses were all about easing the load of staring at computer screens all day, are not covered by private health insurance. Enter a second but: whereas Specsavers add the coating as a separate $50 item per pair, raising my out of pocket costs to $135, OPSM includes the cost of the coating in its lens item. That means that through this slight cheat, OPSM was able to get my insurance to pay for the coating; it also meant that despite buying a much more expensive product I only had to face $60 out of pocket with OPSM. Since I did not need a second pair, I went with the cheaper out of pocket option.
Just in case you were after an example on how easy it is to rort Australia's private health system.

In the next and last episode of this series I will discuss what it's like to wear glasses again.

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