Government announces new vaccine counselling MBS item number

Matt Woodley

18/06/2021 2:41:57 PM

The new Medicare item will provide patients over 50 with a $38.75 rebate when receiving COVID vaccine counselling from their GP.

Person receiving Pfizer COVID vaccine.
Around 64% of Australians over 70 and 47% of people over 50 have been vaccinated as of 18 June. (Image: AAP)

Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt revealed the newly-created MBS item number a day after the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI) changed advice around the AstraZeneca vaccine, and recommended it only be administered to people aged 60 or older.
It had been flagged months ago in response to rising vaccine hesitancy following initial reports of blood clot deaths related to the AstraZeneca vaccine, and RACGP President Dr Karen Price said the new MBS item could not come soon enough.
‘We welcome the Federal Government heeding the RACGP’s calls and introducing this new Medicare item – we need this additional support more than ever,’ she said.
‘We are dealing with increasing vaccine hesitancy right across the country. I’m seeing it in my own practice in Melbourne, almost all my patients have questions about the COVID-19 vaccines.
‘The change in ATAGI’s recommendations reinforces the need for this counselling item – last time there was a change, GPs saw cancelled bookings and had to spend much more time talking to patients, and we are now seeing this again.’
At a press conference announcing the new additional support, Minister Hunt thanked the RACGP and AMA for their assistance in creating the new MBS item number.
‘Their goal is very simple, and that is to ensure that everybody in the 50–60 category comes forward to have their second dose, and those that haven’t had a first dose come forward over the coming weeks and months to have a first dose,’ he said.
‘They’re very keen to give that reassurance to people who are over 60 that it is absolutely in their health interests to come forward and be vaccinated.
‘Just to update, it’s 64% of the over-70s and 47% of the over-50s that have been vaccinated so far. And those numbers are continuing to increase every day.’
Dr Price said the new Medicare item will allow GPs to ‘do what we do best’.
‘We can take the time required to listen to patients’ concerns, answer questions and support them in making an informed decision,’ she said.
‘Patients know and trust their GP, and we are perfectly positioned to counsel patients and build vaccine confidence in the community.
‘General practice is doing the heavy lifting to get as many people vaccinated as soon as possible – we need all the support we can get. This new Medicare item will be crucial to boosting our vaccination rates.’
Dr Price also praised the work of general practices delivering vaccinations, and said she is proud of the GPs, nurses, receptionists and administrative staff helping to deliver vaccinations across Australia.
‘My message to all participating general practices who may have experienced difficulties in obtaining adequate vaccine supply or been challenged by patients cancelling their appointments is simple – let’s stay the course,’ she said.
‘We have already administered more than half of the nation’s COVID-19 vaccinations and that is on top of delivering the annual influenza vaccine, routine childhood vaccinations and continuing to deliver routine care for our patients. 
‘Well done to all of you, and thank you for what you continue to do for your communities under the most challenging of times.
‘Please keep up the good work and utilise this new Medicare item to build vaccine confidence, support your patients, and get more jabs in arms.’
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Dr Duncan MacWalter   18/06/2021 5:32:26 PM

It's not a rebate if bulk-billing is mandatory. It's a fixed payment.

Dr Adam Curtis Wilson   18/06/2021 6:56:26 PM

It is extremely disappointing to see the RACGP and its president back this absolutely disgraceful move by the government. Forced bulk billing cannot and must not be accepted. This item appears to be of absolutely no use as we can discuss vaccine hesitancy in a normal attendance and still bill as we see fit, as private businesses. Enforcing a minimum of 10 minutes for this item then makes it useless to be co-billed with a usual attendance item. It cannot be used. at the point of vaccination, as vaccination clinics are not set up for prolonged appointments. The College and its president not only accepting this but saying it is welcome now have me questioning the value of renewing my membership.

Dr Aun Teeng Ritchie   19/06/2021 6:45:51 AM

I have trouble counselling patients on something which I don't seem to have good knowledge on. The COVID vaccine landscape is ever changing in this country and we seem to only find out from social media and news announcements ourselves as doctors! I would also prefer to just get on with the job without also having to add so much red tape on top of it. This government seems highly disrespectful of GPs overall, to be honest.

Dr Iain James Haig Anderson   19/06/2021 7:12:11 AM

A vaccine counseling item number is pointless if we are not given the basic information in a timely manner and with enough data to allow us to make our own assessments of the evidence. I was told of the change in ATAGI recommendations by a patient who saw it on the news, not by RACGP who should have been sending an email to all members the instant this was decided and including the scientific basis to the decision.

The level of information provided by RACGP to members is on par with high school texts - we are all highly educated doctors, give us the evidence and do it before the patients ask us about it, that's one of the things I expect from a professional college. Are we supposed to check the ABC to determine what to advise people? What are my college fees paying for? Surely not this item number or the newspaper style articles from the college.

Dr Vishal Kohli   19/06/2021 7:21:06 AM

What's the new number?

Dr Daniel Thomas Byrne   19/06/2021 7:50:10 AM

This was obviously a very hard negotiation to get through. Well done Karen and the AMA for the best outcome possible when the starting point was “no”. My altruism around vaccination is wearing thin but it’s a pandemic. The data will soon tell us what is happening with second doses of AZ. (I’ve had mine!)

Dr Natalie Jonker   19/06/2021 8:11:01 AM

I’m sorry Karen, I’m trying to give you and the RACGP the benefit of the doubt but once again you are effusive in your praise of an item number that is stingy, onerous and is mandating to bulkbilled.
This is PATHETIC advocacy.

Dr Geoffrey Ronald Greig   19/06/2021 10:39:47 AM

Certainly I will not use this item while it is mandated to be bulk billed. This is a terrifying precedent for general practice under the guise of a 'national emergency'. I cannot believe the college has accepted this knowing the difficulties we face. As an early adopter of the vaccine rollout it has caused nothing but cost , stress and inconvenience for my staff and the doctors involved . I sincerely regret having anything to do with the program with lack of support the disgraceful communication and now to add insult to injury an attempt to enforce bulk billing- this government is absolute disgrace

Dr Peter James Strickland   19/06/2021 11:11:03 AM

This item number for counselling (whatever it is!) should be in addition to ANY other advice, counselling, procedures done etc. It appears that there is an accumulation now of bureaucratic decisions on Covid 19, and which are impractical and insulting to GPs in particular, and increasingly difficult for practices to keep up with in a timely and pragmatic way. All these decisions are being made by public servants who are unaffected by these changes, and due simply to almost total inexperience of medicine practice administration or empathy.

Dr Dileep Singh   19/06/2021 4:30:41 PM

Patients over 60 with comorbidities has highest risk and should be given choice of vaccine if they are not vaccinated due to any hesitancy. This should be our priority to vaccinate this group

Dr Brendan Peter McMahon   19/06/2021 7:41:28 PM

Our president accepting and proclaiming this bulk billed rebate as a great win has only strengthened the Governments position on the value of the standard rebates. Freeze again they will say. The college thinks 38$ is the right value.

Dr Don Amila Nirupama Yapa   20/06/2021 10:27:46 AM

It was embarrassing to hear from a patient that “now I’m eligible for different vaccination and not that what you are talking about doctor”. He heard that information on TV before see me while at the waiting room on the same day. This type of action increases our hesitancy to recommend something without prior communication.

Dr Paul Stevenson   22/06/2021 3:20:09 PM

Instead of publicly endorsing this item number, the RACGP should commence legal proceedings on behalf of it's members to challenge the constitutionality of mandatory bulk billing

Dr Sasidharan Somasunderam   22/06/2021 7:08:38 PM

over the years all the RACGP precedents have done the same thing and claims victory. My barber charges $45 dollars for a basic trim

Dr Ponnuthurai Paransothy   29/06/2021 3:57:05 PM

Victorian Land tax ,VICROADS registration, Sparky's fee etc going up every year except our consultation fees.
Pathetic situation . We are unable to increase our receptionists salary.

Dr Theja Seneviratne   12/09/2021 4:20:34 PM

GP''s are suffering day by day since Covid started. Government takes the opportunity to introduce BB item numbers to every covid related issues. Vaccine hesitancy counselling is not easy. It is time consuming , to take the patient through whole process it will need at least 30 mins. This remuneration is a joke. I wonder why Karen Price is praising this item no? Soon we will have to manage Covid affected patients [ seeing the way numbers escalating day by day] Would there be another item number for $38? RACGP watch out?