In December 2021, the Morrison Government ended the ability for Australians in rural and regional areas to access bulk billed psychiatry consultations through telehealth by abolishing Medicare Benefits Schedule (MBS) item 288.
This cut has impacted patients outside the major metropolitan areas of Sydney, Newcastle, Wollongong, Canberra, Melbourne, Brisbane, Gold Coast, Sunshine Coast, Adelaide and Perth.
Making matters worse, this cut to Medicare came at a time when many Australians were struggling with mental health impacts of the COVID pandemic.
Even before the pandemic, people in rural and regional Australia had higher rates of mental health related hospitalisation and suicide than those living in cities. This Morrison Government cut has dealt a severe blow to rural and regional Australians needing to access mental health support.
Psychiatrists bulk billed more than 99 per cent of services delivered under MBS item 288, and its removal by the Morrison Government has had significant implications for affordability and access in areas with mental health needs. Patients have been forced to pay expensive gap fees or give up treatment. The cut has also led to some psychiatrists ceasing to provide services in rural areas.
Labor understands the importance of mental health care for Australians, regardless of where they live, especially during the COVID pandemic.
Labor will reinstate telehealth item 288, providing a 50 per cent loading for rural and regional telehealth psychiatry consultations.
This will provide access to bulk billed telehealth psychiatry across Australia’s regions, providing vital mental health services to Australians whose access to these services has been removed by the Morrison Government.
Reinstating Medicare support for telehealth mental health consultations is expected to support 450,000 consultations over 4 years, 585,000 consultations over 5 years, 1.426 million consultations over ten years.
An Albanese Labor Government will:
This important investment in telehealth mental health through Medicare will cost over $31 million over the forward estimates.