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Telehealth cut as PHI targeted in mid-year budget

22nd Oct 2012
Byron Kaye   all articles by this author

GP telehealth rebates will be restricted to people in designated areas of need and after hours video conferencing restricted to people in aged care facilities as the federal government clings to its forecast budget surplus.

The private health insurance rebate, which was already means tested in the last budget, will now be reduced, Treasurer Wayne Swan said today as he blamed global economic conditions for across the board spending cuts in his Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook (MYEFO) statement.

After years encouraging GPs and patients to use telehealth, budget papers said the government would “restrict telehealth services to those patients for whom distance is the most significant barrier to accessing specialist care” to save $134.4 million over four years.

That would mean that from next year, patients would only qualify for the telehealth Medicare Benefits Schedule (MBS) rebate if they were located in an eligible Australian Standard Geographical Classification Remoteness Area.

“Geographic eligibility criteria for MBS telehealth services will be amended to exclude patients in outer metropolitan areas and major cities of Australia in accordance with the ASGC?RA,” the MYEFO papers said.

The change would not affect patients of Aboriginal Medical Services or in aged care facilities, the budget papers said.

The government said it would also save $20 million in the current financial year by slowing the rollout of video conferencing on the after hours GP helpline.

“A staged approach to the rollout of the video conferencing capabilities will allow the technology to be fully tested and developed in 2012-13 to ensure appropriate consumer experience before a national rollout in 2013-14,” the papers said.

Video conferencing would continue in “selected residential aged care facilities”.

Both sets of savings are to be redirected to the government’s new dental scheme.

AMA president Dr Steve Hambleton said health care had generally been spared serious cuts.

Telehealth “was always meant to be for remote locations” however the AMA would urge the government to re-examine other opportunities when economic conditions improved, he said.

He was also unfazed by the cut to after hours video consulting since “the quality of the technology in patients’ homes is not that good anyway”.

“It is always a concern when there’s a reduction in spending in health but when you look at decreases everywhere else, health’s been relatively spared,” Dr Hambleton said.

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