Ophthalmologist fee arrangements opposed by ACCC

20 September, 2013

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) has decided not to allow members of the Australian Society of Ophthalmologists (ASO) to reach agreements within shared practices as to the fees to be charged for ophthalmic services, according to a statement released recently.

There are around 810 practising ophthalmologists (eye surgeons) in Australia, with most working in major cities.

The ASO represents 60 per cent of ophthalmologists.

"The ACCC considers that allowing ophthalmology practices to set common fees for services, within each shared practice, may result in higher prices for patients by reducing competition for ophthalmic services," Sarah Court, ACCC commissioner, said.

The ACCC has previously authorised fee setting conduct in shared practices of GPs and dentists. These professions have much higher numbers of practitioners, which reduced the likely anticompetitive effects. In these arrangements, common fee setting also facilitated shared practices within these professions.

A majority of ophthalmologists are currently participating in shared practices and are already able to benefit from the greater efficiencies and cost savings these bring.

While the ACCC has authorised fee setting arrangements between ophthalmologists practising in Vision Group clinics, the ACCC considers greater benefits arose in this matter due to the branding of Vision Group and its business model, which gave rise to a greater consumer expectation of consistent prices.