Doctors say vulnerable patients are at risk of missing out on medical care this winter unless the federal government halts plans to scale back Medicare rebates for telehealth, and call for more flexibility for patients.
Health Minister Mark Butler said the Albanese government was seeking advice about “options to extend” rebates for longer phone consultations, which are due to expire on June 30 under a policy of the former Morrison government.
Dozens of telehealth rebates are due to be abolished on July 1, including phone consultations of more than 20 minutes with a GP, initial consultations with a specialist and some disability and mental health services.
Royal Australian College of General Practitioners president Adjunct Professor Karen Price called on government to make longer telephone consultations with GPs “a permanent fixture of telehealth” to ensure that patients with complex needs can access the care they need.
“This is a no-brainer,” Price said.
“Removing Medicare rebates for longer phone consultations is particularly detrimental for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, older patients, people with disability, and those living in rural and remote areas, who already have poorer health outcomes.”
Australian Medical Association president Dr Omar Khorshid said patients “cannot afford to lose access to COVID-19 telehealth as it will make access to medical care more difficult, particularly for vulnerable populations”.
Phone consultations made up 98 per cent of all telehealth services provided by GPs in 2020-21.
The Australian National Audit Office is examining the expansion of telehealth medical services, which began as a temporary measure during the COVID-19 pandemic.