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Cut to GP Mental Health Plan rebate bad for patients

The AMA has blasted a Federal Budget decision to slash $406 million from patient rebates for GP Mental Health items to help fund the Government’s belated mental health package.AMA President Dr Andrew Pesce said that the change dramatically devalued the role of the family doctor in managing community mental health and meant that people would have to pay more to see their family doctor for vital mental health care, advice, and referrals.

15 May 2011

The AMA has blasted a Federal Budget decision to slash $406 million from patient rebates for GP Mental Health items to help fund the Government’s belated mental health package.

AMA President Dr Andrew Pesce said that the change dramatically devalued the role of the family doctor in managing community mental health and meant that people would have to pay more to see their family doctor for vital mental health care, advice, and referrals.

The package is billed as $2.2 billion over five years and includes coordinated care for people with severe and persistent mental illness, funding for access to allied psychological services, early psychosis prevention, youth mental health, wellbeing checks for three-year-olds and a national Mental Health Commission.

But the new spending is partly offset by a 30 per cent cut in rebates for GP mental health plans under the Better Access program.

 “The changes will take the family doctor out of the coordinating care role for people with mental health issues,” Dr Pesce said.

“We need to improve funding for mental health but this Budget decision gives with one hand and takes away with the other.

“This is not the right approach.  Devaluing the role of family doctors is a backward step that will seriously fragment medical and mental health care for those people who need it in the community.”

Family doctors were the preferred entry point for mental health care but the Government was making it harder for people to get access to the care they need and reducing the amount of time that patients can spend with their GP.

“Many patients with mental health problems also have complex physical health issues. They need the holistic coordinating care that can only be provided by their family doctor,” Dr Pesce said.

A recent independent review of the mental health Better Access program found that 90 per cent of GPs had provided a service under the program, and more than 85 per cent of these patients had received a mental health care plan from their usual GP.

“This is a program that is working very well for patients and the Government now wants to meddle with it,” Dr Pesce said. 

“The Government has denied it intends to divert funds from direct patient care, but the package shows it will hand valuable mental health funding over to NGOs and to a new level of bureaucracy in Medicare Locals.

“The Government investment in mental health is welcome, but the cuts to frontline care through general practice will seriously undermine other initiatives.”


Published: 15 May 2011