Medicare access to mental health care

From 1 November 2006, it is possible for people with mental health diagnosis to access Medicare rebates or bulk billing for up to twelve sessions per calendar year with a psychologist (clinical or general) or other mental health professional.

Sessions provided can be individually or in group settings. This new initiative is a significant change and will hopefully enable more people to access effective mental health care.

Access to Medicare rebates requires a referral from a GP or psychiatrist that defines the mental health (not illness) issue that you are dealing with and the treatment being sought. If a GP refers you, they will need to have formally developed a Mental Health Care Plan with you; if it is a psychiatrist (or paediatrician) a referral letter only is needed. The mental health professional (psychologist, social worker or occupational therapist) needs to have a Medicare provider number.

Depending on the psychologist or mental health provider you are seeing, they will either (a) bulk bill you which means you will not have to provide any cash payment yourself or (b) charge you their usual rate and you can then access reimbursement from Medicare (for all or part of the cost depending on what they charge). The annual limit is twelve sessions (individual or group) – after that time, no further rebate will be available.

Your referring doctor will review your progress over this time and receive reports regarding your treatment, progress and recommendations for future management of your mental health from your mental health practitioner.

Reports are required after six sessions and, if treatment continues, at the completion of twelve sessions.

More detailed information is available at www.health.gov.au or you can talk with your GP about your options.

2017 NOTE: Today this is the Better Access initiative. See www.health.gov.au/mentalhealth-betteraccess for more information.

Sinnott V (2006). Medicare access to mental health care. Torque, 6(4), 13

Vikki Sinnott is a psychologist in private practice in Melbourne with a strong interest in gender identity and its expression (among other things) and has worked with gender variant people of all ages, their partners and families for over 15 years. She can be contacted on 0417 365 960 or vikki@vlsinnott.com.au

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