Exclusive: No change to mental health access this year, despite changes to subsidised sessions

The system offering subsidised mental health sessions underwent a major change last year. New data suggests that very little has changed
What is Better Access

TDA exclusive: Australians aren’t seeing psychologists any more this year than they were in 2022, despite major reforms rolled out to address inefficiencies in the system.

This included reducing the number of yearly subsidised mental health sessions from 20 to 10, which came into effect at the start of this year.

What is Better Access?

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 and providers can charge a fee on top of the subsidy amount (a ‘gap fee’).

During the pandemic, the previous Coalition Government doubled the number of subsidised sessions. Last year, the Labor Government announced it would return to subsidising 10 sessions per year.

Why was this done?

The Government said it did this because the increased sessions were not being used by those in the greatest need and were making wait times worse.

The decision was based on a review of mental health resources in Australia. It found significant barriers to accessing mental health care, but didn’t recommend scrapping the 10 extra sessions.

The Opposition didn’t support the Government’s decision. At the time, Shadow Health Minister Anne Ruston called the decision “staggering”.

The new data

There have been 64,000 more Australians who have accessed subsidised mental health sessions in the first three months of this year, compared to last year.

Figures seen by TDA also show patients accessed an average of 2.4 sessions in the first three months of 2023, which did not change from the same time last year (when patients could access 20 subsidised sessions a year).

Advocates’ response

While more Australians have accessed subsidised sessions this year, the Australian Psychological Society (APS) said “continual challenges” remained for the Better Access program.

It’s been suggested that patients have continued to limit treatment under Better Access during the start of 2023. This could prolong and reduce the effectiveness of treatments.

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