Government announces last-minute delay of new telehealth rules

Matt Woodley

30/06/2022 6:33:13 PM

Implementation of the proposed 30/20 and extended 80/20 restrictions have been deferred for at least the next three months.

Federal Minister for Health Mark Butler.
Federal Minister for Health and Aged Care Mark Butler has confirmed telehealth compliance action will be delayed until at least the end of September. (Image: AAP)

The RACGP has welcomed a decision from the Federal Minister for Health and Aged Care, Mark Butler, to delay new telehealth restrictions that were due to come into effect from 1 July.
The proposed 30/20 and extended 80/20 rules would have limited the number of services GPs could provide to patients at a time when mounting COVID and flu cases are placing increasing pressure on the nation’s healthcare system.
Minister Butler told reporters he did not think it was appropriate to begin the planned telehealth compliance measures due to ‘what GPs and patients are dealing with right now’.
‘Given the level of respiratory illness in the community, more and more people, more and more GPs for that matter, are choosing to have consults conducted virtually, and I don’t want GPs punished for that,’ he said.
‘I’ve decided to defer that [compliance action] for three months.
‘It is important to have good compliance or quality control measures in place for telehealth – I think broadly people accept that. I don’t think it’s a good idea to drop it in the middle of the winter that we’re experiencing right now.
‘Obviously, depending on where we are at the end of September, if there’s good reason to defer that again, I’ll look at that. But at the moment, the decision I’ve taken is to defer it for three months.’
Aside from urging the Federal Government to delay the application of new compliance measures, the RACGP has also consistently called for a review of the rules, including last week via an open letter to Federal Health Secretary Professor Brendan Murphy.
RACGP Vice President Dr Bruce Willett maintained that position following the announcement, telling newsGP a review is now needed to ensure the benchmarks that have been set are fit for purpose.
‘Introducing new restrictions and compliance measures in the current environment – an ongoing pandemic combined with one of the worst flu seasons we’ve had in years – would have put GPs under enormous so we’re pleased that our consistent advocacy work in this space has delivered a strong outcome for members,’ he said.
‘The fact is we’re often operating with fewer doctors at a time when patient demand is skyrocketing, so we would be very interested in working with the Government to ensure these proposed compliance measures are reasonable and set up to provide the desired outcomes.
‘No one is better placed to inform the Department of Health on the pressures doctors and healthcare workers are facing in the community.’
But while Dr Willett says the deferment is welcome, he pointed out that announcing the decision a day before the new rules were due to come into place is ‘really disruptive’ for general practices.
‘This is the latest in a long line of examples where providers are finding out about really big policy and compliance decisions that influence practices and systems at the last minute,’ he said.
‘There’s a very high chance that practices have already reshuffled telehealth appointments to account for these restrictions coming into place, so it will also have impacted on patients as well.’
Overall, Dr Willett said he is ‘really pleased’ with telehealth’s contribution to the healthcare system, and that RACGP President Adjunct Professor Karen Price and the wider college should be commended for the advocacy work that has been done to ensure that it remains a permanent fixture.
But he also warned that patients will ‘undoubtedly’ be affected by the decision to end most of the COVID-19 temporary telehealth extensions, including patient rebates for longer phone consultations.
‘Tomorrow, patient rebates for telephone consultations longer than 20 minutes will be removed. Patients requiring longer appointments will now need to go into the practice, this is a significant backward step for patient care,’ he said.
‘In 2020–21, phone consultations comprised 98% of all telehealth services provided by GPs and many of these were longer phone consultations lasting more than 20 minutes.
‘Removing these patient rebates is particularly detrimental for older patients, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, those with disability, and people living in rural and remote areas.
‘These groups already have poorer health outcomes than the general population so making these Medicare items for longer phone consultations permanent is the logical step.
‘The RACGP will continue fighting for longer telephone consultations to be a permanent part of telehealth because no patient should be left behind and phone consults make a huge difference for many patients.’
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Dr MT   1/07/2022 7:00:09 AM

Good news for GPs and for patients.
Now we have 3 months to lobby to DoH : rule 80/20 including Telehealth should be seriously reviewed.
80/20 should NOT include Telehealth as GPs can conduct Telehealth at home, after hours, during day off.
Thanks RACGP
Sincerely yours

Dr Duncan MacWalter   1/07/2022 7:48:54 AM

How many times will we accept these changes being decided at the very last minute.

We really should just all charge a private fee every time, and direct the patient to Medicare for them to determine the correct item numbers and rebate if applicable.

Dr ML   1/07/2022 12:36:17 PM

Telehealth is a great adjunct to patient care. At last consultations that I've been doing over the phone for years for no payment can be reimbursed.
However, I have concerns regarding the flagrant abuse I've seen with some of my GP colleagues who think that 'checking up' on patients multiple times a week over the phone is a reasonable way to use up the Medicare dollar. Those same colleagues will get around the 30/20 rule by charging a 23 rather than a telehealth item. So, the unscrupulous GPs are going to get around the rules anyway. For the rest of us, long telephone consultations should remain.
I am also staggered at the specialists who continue to charge $200-400 for a five minute consultation over the phone and continue to write on their letters 'Consultation was conducted via telehealth because of the current COVID pandemic' when they haven't actually eyeballed my patient for the last two years! That's just a personal grizzle that the RACGP has no control over but had to vent!