Australia

‘Utterly premature’: Medicare cuts slammed

Telehealth consultations have been cut dramatically, so GPs like Dr Adam Ellerby are required to use video services.

The Australian government has been criticised for prematurely slashing access to telehealth consultations while Covid cases and influenza are still rife in the community.

The cuts, which came into effect on June 30, signify the end of more than 70 telehealth consultations, including 33 complex specialist items, 40 specialist inpatient items, and GP consultations that exceed 20 minutes.

Health Minister Mark Butler said six out of seven telehealth consultations would not be affected by the changes, and short telehealth consultations with general practitioners (GPs) would still be available.

Health Minister Mark Butler defended the announcement of reduced telehealth services from June 30. Picture: Steve Pohlner
Health Minister Mark Butler defended the announcement of reduced telehealth services from June 30. Picture: Steve Pohlner

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For longer and specialist consultations, patients will have to use video services to ensure their doctor can visually assess their needs.

“We need to recognise that best clinical practice has a visual image between the doctor and their patient,” the Health Minister told 2GB’s Luke Grant.

He said the necessary move to telehealth consultations during the pandemic had been “revolutionary”, but it needed to become a more sustainable practice.

“We want to see that remain a big part of the way we do medicine in Australia … but we want to make sure that it’s good quality medicine,” Mr Butler said.

He said there would be exceptions made for patients in areas with poor internet or phone connection, but emphasised that doctors had been forewarned of the impending changes.

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“There has been quite a deal of notice. GPs should have been talking with their patients for quite a while about that,” he said.

GPs, like Dr Shaun Rudd, previously encouraged residents to embrace the expanded telehealth service for GP consultations. Picture: Patrick Woods
GPs, like Dr Shaun Rudd, previously encouraged residents to embrace the expanded telehealth service for GP consultations. Picture: Patrick Woods

“Whenever there is a change like this, people will be taken by surprise … at some point with a big system like this you need to make sure it’s delivering the best quality care possible.”

Campbelltown GP Kenneth McCroary said the preparation period was beside the point.

“A month’s preparation for a bad policy is still a bad policy,” he said.

Dr McCroary criticised the changes as tying GPs up with complicated Medicare obligations and cutting vital services to vulnerable Australians.

Mr Butler recognised the cuts came at a time of heightened community transmission of Covid and influenza but blamed the former government for the June 30 deadline.

However, opposition health spokeswoman Anne Ruston criticised the decision as “a completely and utterly premature response to the situation”.

She told 2GB’s Luke Grant that the former government had extended the end date for telehealth services in December during the soaring Covid case numbers to ensure “those older and more vulnerable people” still had access to medical services over the phone.

Opposition health spokeswoman Anne Ruston slammed the decision to cut telehealth services.
Opposition health spokeswoman Anne Ruston slammed the decision to cut telehealth services.

Ms Ruston argued that the government should have done the same during the third wave of the pandemic when residents “need this particular service more than ever”.

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“This ‘throw it all out and nothing to see here’ response from the Health Minister was very disappointing,” Ms Ruston said.

“The reality is that this is a cut to Medicare.”

She argued more consultation with medical professionals was necessary to ensure vulnerable Australians – including elderly, rural, and Indigenous populations – had access to quality medical care.

Sydney

Adelaide Lang is a digital reporter for The Bowral News. Based in the Southern Highlands, she covers general local news with a focus on council, courts, and crime.

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