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medicare | rebates and mental health system in australia
From 13 March to 31 December 2021, new temporary MBS telehealth items have been made available to help reduce the risk of community transmission of coronavirus (COVID-19) and provide protection for patients and health care providers.        Medicare-subsidized mental health-specific services  Within the course of COVID-19, the Australian Government introduced a range of additions to the MBS to support provision of care via telehealth, to help reduce the risk of community transmission of COVID-19 and provide protection for both patients and health care providers. This includes mental health services provided by GPs, psychiatrists, psychologists and allied health workers.  The average number of services per patient  AIHW shows that '10.7% of Australians (2.7 million people) accessed 12.4 million Medicare-subsidised mental health-specific services in 2019–20. This is an increase from 6.2% of Australians in 2009–10'. And in 2019–20, nearly 1.5 million (11.8%) services were provided via telehealth. Psychiatrists and clinical psychologists provided a higher proportion of Medicare-subsidised mental health-specific services via telehealth than other types of providers (14.6% and 14.4% respectively), and GPs provided the lowest proportion of mental health MBS services via telehealth (8.2%).  Services provided via telehealth during the COVID-19 pandemic  general practitioners (GPs)  specialists  allied health providers  mental health professionals  nurse practitioners  Medicare for Mental health care If you are required to seek a mental health professional, you and your doctor can create a plan to treat it  Your mental health treatment plan will have targets that you and your doctor have agreed to, including:  treatment options  support services available  A mental health treatment plan allows you claim up to 20 sessions with a mental health professional each calendar year. To start with, your doctor or psychiatrist will refer you for up to 6 sessions at a time. If you require more, they can refer you for more sessions. If they bulk bill, you won’t have to pay anything. If you have private health insurance, you may be able to get some money back. Please confirm with your insurer.  If you live in a remote area, it might be hard to see a mental health professional. You may be able to have a telehealth video consultation instead. You can claim for video consultation sessions with a mental health professional.  Consult your GP or mental health professional if they offer this service. You can also search the find a health service tool on the health direct website for mental health telehealth services.  Telehealth bulk billing for GPs  According Department of Health, Between 6 April and 19 April 2020 (inclusive) the requirement to bulk bill applied to:  Commonwealth concession cardholders  children under 16 years old  patients who are more vulnerable to COVID-19  However, from 20 April 2020 onwards, this is no longer a requirement for specialists and consultant physicians, nurse practitioners, midwives and allied health professionals.  This means the bulk billing requirement now only applies to GP and other medical practitioners (OMP – practitioners not vocationally recognized as GPs, providing non-referred services).  Bulk billing for other providers of COVID-19 services is at their discretion, provided they obtain informed financial consent prior to the service.  According to McKinsey there is also a differential uptake of telehealth depending on speciality, with the highest penetration in psychiatry (50%) and substance use treatment (30%)  If you want to speak to a mental health professional, we offer telehealth services with our Cyber Clinic app, allowing you to have video consults with professional mental health support. Once downloaded, you can perform a short quiz to help match yourself to the right therapist for you, plus you can take advantage of up to twenty Medicare rebatable sessions within the app.


10 more mental health gov subsidised sessions
We welcome the good news from Minister Greg that the Government will provide 10 additional Medicare subsidised mental health consults for those affected by the COVID-19 pandemic after lengthy meetings with the APS. We are proud to offer this to our existing clients to help support with their current mental health treatment plan.   Mental health and suicide prevention remain one of the Government’s highest priorities, and this Government recognises the mental health impact the COVID-19 pandemic is having on individuals and communities, particularly those in areas such as Victoria, where regrettable but necessary measures are needed to stop the spread of the virus. New items will be created under the Better Access to Psychiatrists, Psychologists and General Practitioners through the MBS initiative (Better Access) and will be available from 7 August 2020 until 31 March 2021.    Patients need to have: A Mental Health Treatment Plan Have used all of their 10 sessions in the calendar year; Have to undertake a review with their GP after their 10th session The Australian Government continues to demonstrate its firm commitment to the mental health and wellbeing of all Australians, with estimated expenditure for mental health services and suicide prevention to be more than $5.2 billion in 2019-20.


will the royal commission into mental health save lives, or simply score political points?
The terms of reference have been finalised and the commissioners announced but will Victoria’s Royal Commission into Mental Health actually deliver on its promise to improve mental health outcomes? On the announcement of the Royal Commission into Victoria’s Mental Health System just before the state election last year, I was equally sceptical and hopeful. The first of its kind in Australia, the commission couldn’t be more needed, but I felt unease at mental health issues being used for political point-scoring.  One in five Victorians will experience mental health problems this year, and yet, currently the state government only funds enough mental health services to cater for one per cent of the population, not 20 per cent. In fact, it’s the lowest per capita spend on mental health services of any state in Australia.  But funding is only one indicator of how well mental health services are functioning to meet demand, and according to the 8,000 Victorians who made online submissions for the initial phase of the commission (eight times more than the number of people who made submissions to Victoria's family violence royal commission) the system is clearly broken. The demand for change is overwhelming.  By the government’s own admission, despite the number of people who experience mental health issues in the state, only about half receive treatment. Why, in one of the most developed countries in the world, are people not getting the level of access they need? We can, and must, do better, but will the royal commission listen?  A SYSTEM FOR THE FUTURE Our current mental health system is fragmented, difficult to navigate and, most alarming of all, dehumanising to people at the very moment in time they need the most human connection.   In our modern world, there is often outcry about the dehumanising nature of digital technologies, and yet, time and again, those same technologies have brought us closer together. We connect with loved ones on the other side of the world, or doctors’ who are hours away from home, at the click of the button. Human connection is not lost because of technology, it is lost due to bureaucracy.    We live in the 21st century, and yet our mental health system is severely outdated, without any understanding of how to meet the changing needs of our society. We need to invest in digitizing mental health delivery – actually funding service provision and access in a modern way – rather than simply raising awareness and funding education programs.  A strong digital infrastructure is the backbone of every part of contemporary society – mental health should be no different. Unless the royal commission looks for solutions grounded in the future, too soon any recommendations it gives will once again leave our mental health system in the past. WHAT HAPPENS NEXT? Now that the first phase of the commission is over, the terms of reference have been finalised (which can be found in full here). These include how to effectively prevent mental illness and suicide, how to help people navigate the system, how to help families and those with mental illness and how best to support people with mental illness and drug and alcohol issues. In coming months, the commission is expected to release information on how the inquiry will be conducted, including how the community can contribute to its work. The commission is scheduled to produce a preliminary report by 30 November this year, and a final report in October 2020.  I encourage everyone to work with the royal commission if they can and push for radical change – anything less will be a heavy indictment that politics comes before people.

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