One-off telehealth payments to end in 2014

The federal government will cease funding for its range of telehealth initiatives earlier than expected to encourage practitioners to take up telehealth service provision sooner, the federal budget papers reveal.

While the MBS item numbers introduced last year will not be affected, a minimum distance will be applied, the government said. A 15km minimum distance between specialist and patient location will be introduced from November 1 this year, although this will not apply to residents of aged care facilities and patients of Aboriginal medical services.

However, the government will cease funding of the Telehealth Support Initiative from July 1 2013, and cease telehealth incentives to practitioners from July 1, 2014, one year earlier than expected.

The Telehealth Support Initiative was introduced as part of the Connecting Health Services to the Future policy. It funded the development of a range of training supports, including continuing professional development training, tools and guidelines to facilitate online telehealth consultations and to promote uptake to the initiative. It provided funding of between $100,000 and $2 million over 18 months.

The other incentives, including the one-off, lump sum "on-board incentive" payment available to practitioners following their first hosted telehealth consultation, will cease being funded in mid-2014. This incentive provides a lump sum of $6000 in the first year, which will reduce in increments to $4800 from July 1 2012, and then to $3900 and $3300 in the following two years. That last payment will no longer be available.

“Telehealth incentives will be restructured so that the ‘on board’ incentive is paid in two instalments (1/3 following the first and 2/3 following the tenth services) and all incentive payments will cease from 30 June 2014,” the budget papers say. “This aims to encourage early adoption and embed telehealth into normal practice.”

In total, the restructure will generate savings of $183.9 million over five years, money which has been redirected towards the broader eHealth reform initiatives announced yesterday, including extra money to continue to build the PCEHR.

The government has budgeted for $58.2 million to be paid out as Medicare rebates for specialist telehealth consultations this year, with $109.3m next year and rising to $221.2m in 2015-2016.

New funding for telehealth includes the already announced NBN-enabled telehealth pilot program, which has been allocated $22.2 million over three years, and a new $8.1 million trial of in-home telehealth for 300 veterans living in communities soon to be linked to the NBN.

“Commencing in July 2012, the trial will demonstrate the potential for tele-monitoring and video consultations to improve the management of veterans’ complex chronic conditions and reduce preventable hospitalisations,” the budget papers say.

“Funding for this measure was included as a ‘decision taken but not yet announced’ in the 2011-12 budget.”

However, some money has been allocated under the aged care budget to implement new ways of delivering services to elderly people, including telehealth trials.

The government will also stop paying the operational costs of the Queensland and Victorian components of the National Health Call Centre Network (NHCCN) from July 1, as those two states have not committed to the NHCCN shareholder agreement.

Posted in Australian eHealth

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