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What do patients, healthcare providers and experts think of the Government’s decision to cut subsidised therapy sessions?

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This week, the Federal Government announced it would return to subsidising 10 psychological therapy sessions next year instead of 20.
What do patients, healthcare providers and experts think of the Government's decision to cut subsidised therapy sessions?

This week, the Federal Government announced it would return to subsidising 10 psychological therapy sessions next year instead of 20.

The Government claimed the mental health system was “failing” and that the extra sessions were “aggravating” wait times and not targeting those in greatest need.

TDA sought a range of perspectives on this announcement, including from patients, psychologists, and health policy experts.

First, background

The Government has subsidised therapy sessions under a program called ‘Better Access’ since 2006. The subsidy is provided through Medicare and providers can charge a fee on top of the subsidy amount (a ‘gap fee’).

During COVID, the Coalition Government increased the number of subsidised sessions a year from 10 to 20. The Federal Government has now announced it will return to 10 subsidised sessions.

Here’s what TDA heard from patients, psychologists, and health policy experts.

“I have dipped into my very small savings pool and received financial assistance from family members to be able to afford the full priced sessions over the past six months. Every time my bank account was overdrawn I would remind myself that I just have to hang in there until January, when I can access the subsidy on a mental health care plan again. I was truly hanging out for the reprieve of 20 subsidised sessions.”

Talyah, patient

“I couldn’t afford more than three appointments with the subsidy… Not many people have the ability to use 20 appointments and pay the gap. So while on the surface it sounds [bad] to reduce the number back to ten, the current system is not set up to allow people to use all 20 even if they were available.”

Erin, patient

“I have a lot going on in my life and I am trying to do the best thing by my child and work through my intergenerational trauma (so she doesn’t have to later in life!) but the truth is I can’t afford it without the [subsidy]. I’ve just had my tenth session so I don’t think I’ll be able to continue next year.”

Sam, patient

“While obviously no cut to sessions is ideal, I work with really disadvantaged young people who could never afford private psychology in the first place. So really this population, and other low socioeconomic groups, never really benefitted from the extra 10 sessions as it wasn’t accessible in the first place. I’d like to see more resources put in place for these people.”

Brittany, youth worker

“The decision means many people will not get the care they need. People will have to stop therapy mid-treatment and attempt to return the following year, or stretch out their sessions to once a month, which is typically ineffective. It creates a revolving door of mental illness.”

Cassie, clinical psychologist

“We need to have these 20 sessions restored… Fortnightly clients can blow through 10 sessions in under six months. We’re not going to be able to provide effective long-term care when those people need it.”

Sahra O’Doherty, a director at the Australian Association of Psychologists

“Mental health care is already highly skewed to wealthy areas [even though] the most disadvantaged fifth of Australians have more than double the rate of psychological distress than the average… This is a tough thing to do, but it can be the right thing to do if there’s really quick and decisive action to address access gaps.”

Peter Breadon, Health Policy Director at the Grattan Institute

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