Telehealth cuts cause ‘mayhem’
Federal government puts money before care. Again.
At the moment when Omicron exploded in late December, the federal government responded with changes to the Medicare Benefits Schedule that restricted phone consultations for a long list of specialist items, which impacted on patients most vulnerable to COVID.
These changes will limit telehealth for cancer patients, psychiatry patients, the elderly and people in remote areas, clinicians have warned.
President of the Clinical Oncology Society of Australia (COSA) and medical oncologist, Professor Fran Boyle, told The Guardian that the timing of the changes was “appalling” considering the dramatic increase in COVID cases across the nation.
She said the changes to MBS item numbers, intended to help people with cancer and other illnesses, would limit access to care for vulnerable demographics, particularly in remote areas.
The government says the changes were intended to encourage the take-up of video consultations and reduce the number of phone consultations.
Professor Boyle said “overwhelmingly” patients took up phone consultations as video added a “layer of complexity” and wasn’t an option for many – notably older people and others with limited access to technology and reliable internet in regional and rural Australia.
The AMA said “acknowledging we are still in a pandemic” would have seen the availability of item numbers extended, not reduced.
AMA President, Dr Omar Korshid, said the health department had been “very much of the mind” that phone consultations should be limited.
“Presumably with concern they’ll cost more money,” he said.