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Calls for mental health rebate cuts to be reversed

24th May 2011
Byron Kaye   all articles by this author
Andrew Bracey   all articles by this author

FEDERAL Parliament has been urged to seek savings in programs such as the GP super clinics and Medicare Locals in order to save rebates for GP mental health plans which were slashed significantly in the recent Budget.

In a letter to all Federal MPs and senators, the AMA has today requested the rebate cuts be axed, arguing that the decision was made with no prior consultation with the profession and would undermine the Government’s own push to bolster mental health services.

The letter came as Mental Health Minister Mark Butler today repeated his claims that GPs were overpaid for drawing up mental health plans. He was answering questions following a speech at the National Press Club.

Last week Mr Butler pointed to data that showed the average Better Access consultation lasted just 28 minutes and attracted a $163 rebate, while a 40-minute GP consultation attracted a rebate of just $99.

But Associate Professor Helena Britt, head of the Bettering the Evaluation and Care of Health (BEACH) program, said the 28-minute average GP consult for mental health – provided by her and quoted by Mr Butler – was only part of the time practitioners spent on mental health plans.

She said the data included only the face-to-face time between GPs and patients and did not include the time doctors spent outside sessions on related paperwork and liaising with other healthcare workers.

“I don’t know what they’re thinking, but it’s possible that they have not considered these other time issues,” she told MO.

“The 28-minute average… is correct [but] I’ve questioned the interpretation.”

The AMA has similarly questioned the Government’s interpretation of the data in its letter.

“It has always been acknowledged that the justification for the higher rebate was based on additional face-to-face time before or after the service attracting the item, additional non face-to-face time, onerous compliance requirements and the non face-to-face time involved in consulting with other health service providers involved,” reads the letter.

The RACGP last week also seized on the 28-minute figure touted by Mr Butler, with college president Professor Claire Jackson calling for the cuts to be reversed as soon as possible to prevent GPs abandoning the scheme altogether.

The AMA’s letter concludes with a request for Parliamentarians to reconsider the cuts and retain existing rebate levels “to avoid an inevitable campaign of opposition from patients and doctors alike”.

“In our view, patient rebates should be maintained at their current level with the realistic expectation, indeed hope, that the program will become more, not less, available and that Australians will continue to benefit from the GP services involved.”

Under the plans, the current rebate of $163.35 for a mental health plan for GPs will be replaced by a rebate based on timed consultations from 1 November.

Rebates will now be $85.92 for a plan written during a consultation of 20–39 minutes and $126.43 for a 40-minute consult for GPs trained in Level 1 mental health skills.

Those without the training will receive $67.65 and $99.50, respectively.


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