Currently in Australia people suffering acute stress or other mental health problems can get referrals from their GP’s to access help from Psychologists and counsellors and have the services bulk billed. This has meant that many people who were not otherwise able to access this assistance have been able to get the help they need. May people who had been suffering from chronic, long term illnesses have also benefitted from this system.
Australia has one of the highest rates of suicide and mental illness on the planet. So why would the Government want to cut funding or restrict access to services that offer this vital help to people at their most vulnerable? Inquiries and reviews of Australia’s mental health systems have repeatedly advised increasing spending and service provision, but the recent budget has done the opposite.
Mental illness affects everyone in some way. Almost half of the Australian population has experienced mental illness at some stage in their life, and one in five Australian adults experience mental illness in any one year. The 2011/12 Federal Budget saw the Government make savage cuts to the funding of GP mental health services through Medicare under the Better Access Program.
The Government has slashed funding by more than $400 million, with Medicare patient rebates for GP mental health services being cut by up to 50 per cent. The Better Access Program has been independently reviewed by the Centre for Health Policy and Programs. This review demonstrated that the program has:
improved patient access to mental health services;
achieved positive outcomes for patients with mental illness; and
provided affordable access to GP mental health services, with little or no out-of-pocket costs.
The same review also found that the program was cost effective.
The Government’s decision to cut Medicare patient rebates will affect vulnerable patients and make access to vital GP services less affordable. Medicare will now treat people with mental illness less favourably than people with a physical ailment, with rebates for GP Mental Health Plans dropping to between 10 per cent and 50 per cent lower than GP Management Plans for other chronic illness.
We urge you to sign this petition in support of our campaign to have the Government reverse this unfair and unnecessary decision.
AMA Vice President, Professor Geoffrey Dobb, said today that the AMA has been a vocal critic of the cuts to Medicare rebates for GP mental health services since Budget night.
“We have contacted all members of the Federal Parliament urging them to convince the Government to reverse the cuts,” Prof Dobb said.
“It is clear now that families with members affected by mental illness have been raising the same concerns with their MPs and Senators. The new arrangements would hinder access to quality GP care and would seriously disadvantage mental health patients. From November, patients with mental illness would be forced to pay more for their care than people with other complex and chronic conditions such as diabetes, hypertension, asthma, high cholesterol, or arthritis.
“Senators have heard our concerns and the concerns of their constituents and must now look closely at these changes and convince the Government with real evidence from their communities that theses cuts will hit families hard.
“Making it more difficult and more expensive for people with mental illness to see their GP for quality personalised care is unacceptable at a time when the Government claims it is investing heavily across the whole mental health sector. The AMA acknowledges the positive steps involved in the Government’s recent mental health package, but it is not good policy to take from one part of the mental health budget to give to another.”