Mental health access program failing the needy
A SENIOR Government adviser and mental health expert has warned that the contentious Better Access to Mental Health Care program has failed to meet its aims despite its ballooning costs.
Professor Ian Hickie, a member of the Government's National Advisory Council on Mental Health and executive director of the University of Sydney's Brain & Mind Research Institute, has called on the Government to urgently overhaul the program.
His comments, made on the ABC's AM program this morning, come as Mental Health Minister Mark Butler was set to release a long-awaited review of the program today.
Professor Hickie told the ABC patients in greatest need were getting the least services through the program, labelling its results a "travesty".
"The probability is that those in higher-income areas who have a capacity to pay are also getting the most money back from the Government for common mental health services," he said of the program, which was initially allocated $500 million over four years.
"It's now cost over $1.5 billion and it costs over $500 million a year and over the next five years it's likely to grow to being almost $1 billion per year. We won't have any money left for other essential mental health programs unless we restructure this particular program."
Professor Hickie also suggested the Medicare fee-for-service-based system had "allowed the professionals to set up lots of small businesses in the well-off suburbs of our major cities and to charge higher rates for their services".
"So that they can get both the co-payment... plus the Medicare rebate. And that's what the Government's essentially encouraged them to do."
"Nicola Roxon said in opposition that she would change this. A different payment system would see those same professionals providing services in other suburbs - in the outer suburban areas and the regional areas where they're desperately needed."
In response, Minister Butler conceded that there were "some limits to this program in terms of its capacity to apply equitably across the population and to reach the harder-to-reach groups".
"There's no question that it demonstrates the need to balance the fee-for-service arrangement that you see in the better access program that we've just evaluated with targeted programs that deliberately go out to reach the harder-to-reach population [such as] younger people, people who live in rural and regional Australia and people living on our urban fringes in lower socio-economic areas," he told the ABC.