Govt cuts telehealth MBS items for urban areas

GPs and specialists will no longer be able to claim MBS telehealth item numbers for outer metropolitan areas in the new year following cuts to the program announced in today's Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook papers.

The item numbers will only apply to services for patients of an Aboriginal Medical Service or a residential aged care facility in outer metropolitan areas from January 1, 2013.

Rural and remote telehealth provision is unaffected. The restriction is expected to save an estimated $134.4 million over four years, which will be redirected into the cost of the dental health reform package announced in August.

According to the papers, the new restrictions will align eligibility to the MBS telehealth items with the Australian Standard Geographical Classification Remoteness Area (ASGC-RA) used by the Australian Bureau of Statistics.

The government will also introduce new items to cover short video conferencing attendances from specialists where the time and content is less than that usually expected for initial consultations.

These new telehealth triage and short consultation items are expected to save $4.5 million over four years. They will also be restricted to patients living in eligible geographic areas.

The government will also change its approach to developing the video conferencing capabilities of the after-hours GP helpline. “A staged approach to the rollout of the video conferencing capabilities will allow the technology to be fully tested and developed in 2012-13 to ensure appropriate consumer experience before a national rollout in 2013-14,” the papers say.

“The telephone helpline commenced operation in July 2011 to enable people who require after-hours medical advice, and who cannot access their usual GP, to speak to a GP over the telephone if necessary. Video conferencing will continue in selected residential aged care facilities where it has been available since July 2012.”

The health portfolio will also economise through cuts of $18.7 million to media spending and the cancellation of the $20.1 million Queensland Regional Acute/Subacute/Extended Inpatient Mental Health Services project, following a decision by the Queensland government to withdraw its support for the project.

The majority of savings in the health portfolio will come from changes to the private health insurance rebate. The government's contribution will now be calculated using commercial premiums and indexed annually with the consumer price index or the annual increase in premiums, whichever is the lesser.

It will also reduce the level of subsidy to the Premium Support Scheme (PSS), which helps doctors with the costs of their medical indemnity insurance.

Posted in Australian eHealth


0 # Judith Gibbon 2012-10-25 11:14
What is meant by "selected RACFs" with regards to the continuing of Video Conferencing (where it has been available since July 2012)?
0 # Kate McDonald 2012-10-25 11:30
I'm not sure, Judith. I'll check it out for you.
0 # Kate McDonald 2012-10-26 12:32
Judith, the Department of Health says video conferencing has been added to the GP after-hours helpline program and is being trialled in a couple of pilot aged care sites. DoHA can't tell me which ones.
0 # Dr George Margelis 2012-10-27 06:08
Is the assumption that the people who would have had those telehealth consultations will not go and see a doctor now, and they will save $134 million. Doesn't seem to make a lot of sense, let's deprive Australians of access to doctors to save some money, and don't worry the state government will pick up the cost when they roll up to the ED with complications from their unmanaged disease?
It seems a bizarre way of saving some money in the short term by putting Australians at risk. At the same time they continue the roll out of the NBN whose one saving grace seems to be the ability to provide good quality video consults between doctors and patients if you watch their promotional video. It would appear the two departments do not speak to each other, and then they complain that the healthcare system is fragmented.

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