Sector News — 29 August 2014

Australian Association of Psychologists incorporated (AAPi) offers Federal Government suggestions regarding funding of Better Access to Mental Health services program.

Peak psychology organization, AAPi, have today made a recommendation to the Federal Government that $135 million over a five year period can be saved simply by paying all psychologists the same Medicare rebate rate. Some psychologists, those deemed as ‘clinical’, are currently paid nearly 50% more in Medicare rebates that all other psychologists, despite the levels of experience or training of either type.

When announcing the proposal the President of the AAPi, Mr Paul Stevenson said “Were the Federal Government to pay all psychologists the same rate of $84.80, it would reduce the Better Access expenditure by around $135million over a five year period. This would not alter the amount of services provided at all. The Australian public would still receive the same benefit of the same amount and quality of psychology services, and the government would save around $135million of tax payers dollars over five years”.

AAPi is recommending that government reduce the Medicare rebates of psychologists (endorsed as clinical) to that of all other registered psychologists, i.e $84.80 per hour. Mr Stevenson states, “Research has demonstrated that there is no actual difference between the types of psychologists in terms of the clientele they work with, their effectiveness, the psychological strategies used, or the outcomes for clients.” The AAPi is also recommending that the government gives the psychological assessment function in he Better Access program to psychologists, taking this role away from GPs.

“Medicine and psychology are not synonymous disciplines or professions, nor does one subsume the other. There appears to be a belief within some circles that medicine is in some way superordinate to psychology. This is unfounded because they are simply different disciplines.” Mr Stevenson said.

The current Better Access program mandates physicians (GP’s or psychiatrists) to provide a referral for a person to see a psychologist. Further, after 6 sessions of psychology, the client is then required to see the referring physician again in order to obtain a re-referral, allowing them 4 more sessions of psychology. bigstockphoto_Australian_Money_Background_2479434

“The amount of ‘red tape’ around medical assessments, referrals and re-assessments is unnecessary and contributes to the cost burden of the Department of Health and Human Services. More than 50% of the Better Access funds are spent on paying highly trained physicians to conduct what is essentially an administrative function. If the Federal Government were to alleviate GPs of this role in the Better Access program, physicians would be freed up to provide more medical services, and the funds saved could e put into the provision of psychological services.” Mr Stevenson concluded

AAPi believes that mental health funding should result from a consideration of the available evidence, rather than from positions of vested interest. For too long, powerful professional organisations and individuals in the mental health industry have managed to exert an unwarranted influence over government policy, often based on fabricated arguments.

The AAPi is an organization of professional psychologists which was created to challenge such vested interests as they pertain to unjustified inequities created in our profession. These biases now have the potential to diminish the Australian public’s access to professional psychological services.

Therefore the AAPi offers the Federal Government the forgoing suggestions regarding funding of the Better Access to Mental Health Services program which are consistent with the Government’s aim to provide mental health services delivered within budgetary constraints.

This article first appeared on MediaNet on 28 August 2014.

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