Mental health plan: Mark Butler announces cuts to Medicare subsidies for psychologist sessions

Home Health Mental health plan: Mark Butler announces cuts to Medicare subsidies for psychologist sessions
Mental health plan: Mark Butler announces cuts to Medicare subsidies for psychologist sessions

Access to cheaper psychology visits will be halved within weeks, as the government moves away from the mental health program introduced during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic.

In 2020, the former government increased the number of Medicare-subsidised psychology visits in a year from 10 to 20.

But from January 1, patients will once again only be able to claim Medicare rebates for 10 visits.

Health Minister Mark Butler said the Better Access program had actually done little to help people in rural and low socio-economic areas.

“The evaluation I am publishing today considered the impact of those additional 10 sessions and found they drove a very big increase in the number of services in this sector generally,” he said.

“But it found that those additional 10 aggravated existing waiting lists and aggravated barriers to access, particularly by (people in rural and low socio-economic areas).

“The evaluation found that all of the additional services went to existing patients and that the number of new patients who were able to get into the system and get access to psychology services actually declined by 7 per cent.”

Just last week the Australian Psychological Society had called for the additional 10 sessions to be made permanent.

The Australian Association of Psychologists on Monday said Mr Butler’s announcement was “bitterly disappointing”.

“Given the devastating impact of the pandemic, regular natural disasters, increasing levels of mental ill-health and unprecedented demand, this decision is denying people the level of mental health care they so desperately need,” executive director Tegan Carrison said.

“We implore the federal government to give more consideration to the mental wellbeing of all Australians.”

Mr Butler said a recent evaluation had found Australians used five sessions on average in 2021, with 83 per cent using fewer than 10 sessions.

He said in the new year, the government would consider future improvements to Better Access.

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