Govt proposes cap on health vouchers for optometry services

March 12, 2019 13:21
Secretary for Food and Health Sophia Chan (center) holds a press conference on the results of a review of the health voucher scheme on Monday, which showed an abnormally high usage of the vouchers for optometry services. Photo: ISD/HKEJ

The Food and Health Bureau has proposed changes to the 10-year-old Elderly Health Care Voucher Scheme (EHCVS) after noticing an abnormal use of such vouchers for optometry services.

In a paper submitted to the Legislative Council on Monday, the bureau recommended that the use of the government-subsidized vouchers be limited to HK$2,000 every two years for qualified seniors to receive optometry services such as primary eye care and purchase of eyeglasses, the Hong Kong Economic Journal reports.

Secretary for Food and Health Professor Sophia Chan Siu-chee told a press conference that the decision was made after a review of the EHCVS, adding that the proposed limit was based on views gathered from patient organizations, seniors and optometrist groups.

The government launched the EHCVS in 2009 to subsidize Hong Kong citizens aged 70 or above in obtaining various primary care services, including optometry services, from the private sector. Since July 1, 2017, the age of eligibility for the scheme has been lowered to 65.

Under the scheme, eligible seniors are currently each given a voucher worth HK$2,000 a year. The voucher is allowed to accumulate up to HK$5,000 in total, and there is no restriction on the number of years that an elderly person may carry forward the unspent vouchers.

According to the review results unveiled on Monday, there were 7,941 people enrolled in the scheme, with 697 of them being optometrists.

It was found that the participating optometrists claimed HK$760 million from the scheme last year, or about HK$1.09 million per capita. That accounted for 27 percent of the total voucher amount claimed by all types of healthcare professionals.

For high-amount claims worth more than HK$4,000 each, those filed by optometrists last year amounted to 26,665 claims, or 76 percent of all their claims.

By comparison, the ratio of high-amount claims for regular medical doctors was only 5 percent, 7 percent for Chinese medicine practitioners and 11 percent for dentists.

“In the review by the Department of Health, we have noticed the abnormal high amount of usage of this service both in terms of the claim, per claim, in terms of the money and also the total expenses in terms of using this service," Chan said.

The cap was proposed so that the elderly can make better use of their EHCV and will not concentrate on one particular service, the health chief said.

She stressed that the move was not meant to stigmatize any profession but was based on the review that showed there was a disproportionately high usage of the vouchers for services by optometrists.

At a press conference, the Hong Kong Association of Private Practice Optometrists expressed its strong opposition to the proposed cap and urged for its retraction.

The association said the high usage of the vouchers on optometry services reflects the fact that seniors are increasingly in need of such services, adding that the proposed cap is tantamount to ignoring the elderly's needs.

The Legco is scheduled to discuss the review results next Monday.

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