13 Jan 2020
News

MBS boost for patients affected by bushfires



13/01/2020 2:43:50 PM

Several Medicare Benefits Schedule item numbers will be expanded as part of a $76 million investment in bushfire mental health support.

Bushfire mental health support.
The Federal Government has announced a large funding package to help support mental health for those directly affected by the bushfires. (Image: AAP)

The changes mean, from next week, people affected by the bushfires will be able to access up to 10 psychological therapy sessions in addition to the 10 already available under Medicare.
 
Medicare Benefits Schedule (MBS) items 2121, 2150 and 2196, which provide rebates for GP telehealth services provided to patients with mental health issues in drought-affected areas, will also be expanded to include patients affected by bushfires.
 
Patients who have had their mental health affected as a result of a bushfire that occurred in the 2019–20 financial year are eligible, regardless of whether they live in an area that has been directly impacted.
 
MBS rebates for these items will remain the same and there is no minimum distance for telehealth services provided to patients affected by bushfire.
 
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the money and new item numbers will address the ‘critical issue of dealing with trauma and mental health occasioning from these bushfire disasters around the country’.
 
‘There has been a deep scar in the landscape that has been left right across our country,’ he said in a press conference over the weekend.
 
‘But I am also very mindful, as is the Government, of the very real scars that will be there for quite a period of time to come for those who’ve been exposed to the trauma of these bushfires.’
 
Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt said the $76 million has been earmarked to provide assistance to ‘every person who has been touched by the fires’.
 
‘It’s immediate support … for people who have been in the fire-affected zones, whether that’s farmers, whether that’s young people, old people, whether that is small business people, people who are living in residence in the area and faced the fires, or visitors or emergency service personnel and volunteers,’ he said.
 
RACGP President Dr Harry Nespolon is supportive of the additional funding and the help it will provide patients and other health and emergency professionals across the nation.
 
‘The RACGP welcomes the announcement and we look forward to working further with the Government in the weeks and months to come, to get the support GPs need to help communities affected by the bushfire crisis,’ he said.
 
Of the $76 million, $13.7 million will be channelled into immediate distress and trauma support for bushfire affected individuals. This will enable 10 free counselling sessions to be delivered via recovery centres, Service Australia centres and existing local mental health centres. It will also aid in the deployment of mental health response coordinators to fire-affected areas.
 
To provide support for more long-term psychological impacts, $29.6 million will help fund psychological treatment through Medicare and also expand its accessibility through telehealth.
 
‘Extra Medicare rebates for psychological therapy and expanding telehealth consultations are essential for patients enduring these devastating fires,’ Dr Nespolon said.
 
A GP referral or mental health treatment plan will not be required to access the new Medicare items; patients can instead seek appointments directly from eligible mental health professionals.
 
Those in rural and remote areas who may have difficulty accessing face-to-face sessions will be further assisted by an expansion to the Better Access via Telehealth initiative, which will also make it easier for GPs to deliver mental health support.
 
The new items will be available at the end of this week and remain in place for the next two years.
 
Young Australians will receive specifically targeted support, with headspace sites in affected areas to receive up to $300,000 in additional funding.
 
There is also recognition in the funding of the trauma faced by emergency services personnel, with $16 million to be provided to specialist organisations for trauma care support.
 
A further $1 million will help train those who manage frontline personnel to recognise when their staff may be at risk of trauma and psychological strain.
 
In addition, $1 million will be given to train frontline personnel themselves, including doctors, pharmacists and other community-based healthcare professionals, in providing trauma-informed care and psychological first aid to patients.
 
Finally, $6.9 million will be distributed to Primary Health Networks for community wellbeing grants and other funding for locally tailored mental health services.
 
More information on eligibility requirements for items 2121, 2150 and 2196 can be found here.
 

Item number Descriptor Rebate
2121 Professional attendance by video conference by a general practitioner, lasting less than 20 minutes, for providing mental health services to a patient with mental health issues, if:
(a) the patient is affected by bushfire; or
(b) the patient and the general practitioner are located within a drought affected eligible area, and:
(i) the patient is, at the time of the attendance, at least 15 kilometres by road from the general practitioner; and
(ii) the patient has an existing relationship with the general practitioner
$44.90
2150 Professional attendance by video conference by a general practitioner, lasting at least 20 minutes, for providing mental health services to a patient with mental health issues, if:
(a) the patient is affected by bushfire; or
(b) the patient and the general practitioner are located within a drought affected eligible area, and:
(i) the patient is, at the time of the attendance, at least 15 kilometres by road from the general practitioner; and
(ii) the patient has an existing relationship with the general practitioner
$86.95
2196 Professional attendance by video conference by a general practitioner, lasting at least 40 minutes, for providing mental health services to a patient with mental health issues, if:
(a) the patient is affected by bushfire; or
(b) the patient and the general practitioner are located within a drought affected eligible area, and:
(i) the patient is, at the time of the attendance, at least 15 kilometres by road from the general practitioner; and
(ii) the patient has an existing relationship with the general practitioner
$128.05

Log in below to join the conversation.



bushfires disaster medicine emergency medicine Mental health Mental health funding



Login to comment