Federal telehealth service begins today

30 March 2020

Written by: Brittany Carlson

A new $1.1 billion dollar government funding boost is one of the latest weapons in the fight against COVID-19.

From today, as part of a federal  $1.1 billion Medicare, mental health and domestic violence package in response to COVID-19, all Australians will have access to bulk-billed telehealth services to assist with the growing coronavirus pandemic.

All Australians who are eligible for Medicare and are not admitted hospital patients are now eligible to access bulk billed appointments with a wide range of doctors and specialists, via phone or video conferencing services.

The package will put $669 million towards expanding the Medicare subsidies for telehealth services. So instead of having to pay from their own pockets Australians can now access telehealth at no cost to them.

In a joint media release issued yesterday, Australia’s Health Minister Greg Hunt and the Principle Medical Advisor, Professor Michael Kidd say that this will help doctors and specialists be better protected against the coronavirus and hopefully limit the spread of it even further.

“Australia’s primary health workers are our frontline in leading the fight against this pandemic. Services via telehealth will limit unnecessary exposure of patients and health professionals to COVID-19, wherever treatment can be safely delivered by phone or videoconferencing,” the release said.

It will also mean Australia will be able to conserve protective equipment like masks and gloves because doctors will not have to wear them in a video call.

Doctors will end up with less money in their pockets for these video appointments as they will be forced to bulk bill but they have been offered some incentives from the government.

They will receive $6.40 per consult in major cities, and anywhere else this will increase to $9.65. If a consultation is provided to concession card holders or people under the age of 16 then these amounts will be doubled.

This is set to be revised later in the week where it may become possible for GP’S and other providers to apply their usual billing practices to telehealth consultations, while concessional and vulnerable patients continue to receive the service at no cost.

Patients will now be able to access:

  • GPs
  • Psychologists
  • Midwives
  • Nurses
  • Psychiatrists
  • Pediatricians, speech pathologists, physiotherapists and occupational therapists.
  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Practitioners
  • Social workers and dieticians for eating disorders

Clinics will remain open but it is encouraged that Australians use telehealth wherever possible.

Photo by Taylor Grote on Unsplash