Govt cuts telehealth MBS items for urban areas

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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.

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