The Federal Government has announced it will return to subsidising 10 psychological therapy sessions instead of 20 from next month.
The Government claims the sessions were not targeted to those in the greatest need and made wait times worse.
The Government has subsidised mental health treatment plans and therapy sessions under a program called ‘Better Access’ since 2006.
The subsidy is provided through Medicare. Providers can charge a fee on top of the subsidy amount (a ‘gap fee’).
During COVID, the previous Government increased the number of subsidised sessions a year from 10 to 20. This is due to expire on 31 December 2022.
The Government says its decision not to extend the extra sessions was based on a review of the mental health system by University of Melbourne researchers.
That review found cost and long waiting times were major barriers to accessing care, especially for people in economically disadvantaged areas.
The review found the extra 10 sessions did not appear to have targeted patients with the greatest needs. However, the review did not recommend scrapping the sessions. It recommended keeping them with additional measures to ensure better targeting.
Health Minister Mark Butler claims the review showed the extra 10 sessions had “aggravated existing waitlists and aggravated barriers to access,” especially for disadvantaged groups.
He also says: “All of the growth… in services went to the highest income Australians, with the lowest income Australians actually receiving fewer services over this period than they had before the introduction of the additional 10.”
The Government says it plans to consult experts in early 2023 to consider new measures, but has not made any specific commitments.
Shadow Health Minister Anne Ruston has criticised the Government’s decision.
“As the Australian community continues to deal with the massive impact of the pandemic, natural disasters, and the compounding pressures of the cost of living crisis, it is staggering that the Albanese Government believes now is the right time to rip away vital mental health support,” Ruston told TDA.
The Government has clarified that any patient with a current mental health treatment plan that includes a referral for 10 additional sessions will be able to access those sessions in 2023.