General News Politics — 25 July 2012

Warnings that the federal government’s cuts to the Better Access mental health program would impact patient access have been supported by new figures suggesting the number of mental health care plans bulk billed has more than halved.

Despite Medicare data showing the overall number of Better Access-related MBS claims has risen since the cuts last November, an AMA survey of 404 GPs found the proportion who bulk billed for mental health plans dropped from 78.1% before the cuts to 38.6% after.

For doctors charging a gap, the AMA figures suggested the cost went up with 40% of GPs charging a co-payment of $31 or more since the changes took effect, compared to just 30% before.

AMA president Dr Steve Hambleton, who in a Press Club speech last week accused the government of cutting its support of GPs to pay for other health reforms, said the survey results proved the cuts, which took GPs by surprise when they were announced in the 2011–12 budget, must be reversed.

“The… cuts were clearly all about the budget bottom line and nothing to do with improved outcomes for mental health patients,” Dr Hambleton said.

The AMA, the RACGP and others formed a bloc campaign under United General Practice Australia to overturn the cuts which effectively lowered the rebate for GP mental health care plans and reduced the number of rebatable visits to a GP-referred psychologist.

RACGP president Professor  Claire Jackson said the survey results were “not unexpected” and the government must do more to ensure all primary care services were more accessible.

“As operating costs increase and the patient rebates continue to fall against CPI, the college believes gap payments in all categories can only increase,” Professor Jackson said.

A spokesperson for Mental Health Minister Mark Butler said the AMA survey represented just 1.7% of GPs and the number of claims for mental health plans had risen by 3.3% in the first half of 2012 compared to 2011. The spokesperson said bulk billing rates for mental health plans had fallen slightly in early 2012 but remained significantly higher than for overall GP services.

WARNINGS that the federal government’s cuts to the Better Access mental health program would impact patient access have been supported by new figures suggesting the number of mental health care plans bulk billed has more than halved.

Despite Medicare data showing the overall number of Better Access-related MBS claims has risen since the cuts last November, an AMA survey of 404 GPs found the proportion who bulk billed for mental health plans dropped from 78.1% before the cuts to 38.6% after.

For doctors charging a gap, the AMA figures suggested the cost went up with 40% of GPs charging a co-payment of $31 or more since the changes took effect, compared to just 30% before.

AMA president Dr Steve Hambleton, who in a Press Club speech last week accused the government of cutting its support of GPs to pay for other health reforms, said the survey results proved the cuts, which took GPs by surprise when they were announced in the 2011–12 budget, must be reversed.

“The… cuts were clearly all about the budget bottom line and nothing to do with improved outcomes for mental health patients,” Dr Hambleton said.

The AMA, the RACGP and others formed a bloc campaign under United General Practice Australia to overturn the cuts which effectively lowered the rebate for GP mental health care plans and reduced the number of rebatable visits to a GP-referred psychologist.

RACGP president Professor  Claire Jackson said the survey results were “not unexpected” and the government must do more to ensure all primary care services were more accessible.

“As operating costs increase and the patient rebates continue to fall against CPI, the college believes gap payments in all categories can only increase,” Professor Jackson said.

A spokesperson for Mental Health Minister Mark Butler said the AMA survey represented just 1.7% of GPs and the number of claims for mental health plans had risen by 3.3% in the first half of 2012 compared to 2011. The spokesperson said bulk billing rates for mental health plans had fallen slightly in early 2012 but remained significantly higher than for overall GP services.

As first appered in Medical Observer

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