Bulk Billed MBS Telehealth Services

On 11 March 2020, the Prime Minister, the Hon. Scott Morrison MP, announced a $2.4 Billion health plan to fight COVID-19 to protect all Australians, including vulnerable groups such as the elderly, those with chronic conditions and Indigenous communities, from the coronavirus (COVID-19).

“The telehealth service will help contain the spread of the virus and it will be bulk-billed at no cost to patients and will be available from Friday 13 March. 

These telehealth consultation services will be provided by doctors, both GPs and specialists, nurses and mental health allied health workers and will also be available under Medicare for people aged over 70, people with chronic diseases, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aged over 50, people who are immunocompromised, pregnant people and new parents with babies.

These people are at greater risk from the virus and treatment home will minimise their risk of exposure.  This will be available to these groups for non-coronavirus consultations as a general health measure.”

What does this mean?

Temporary Medicare Benefits Schedule (MBS) and Department of Veterans’ Affairs (DVA) items will allow doctors, nurses, midwives and mental health professionals to deliver services via telehealth, provided those services are bulk billed.

Why is this important?

The new MBS items will allow people to access essential health services in their home while they undergo self-isolation or quarantine, and reduce the risk of exposure to COVID-19 for vulnerable people in the community.

This is a temporary six-month measure. Should the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee (AHPPC) recommend an extension, it will be considered by the Government.

Who benefits?

Telehealth services will be available to:

  • people isolating themselves at home on the advice of a medical practitioner or in accordance with home isolation guidance issued by the AHPPC;
  • people who meet the testing guidelines for COVID-19;
  • people aged over 70;
  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aged over 50;
  • people with chronic health conditions or who are immunocompromised; and
  • parents with new babies and people who are pregnant.

People in isolation or quarantine for COVID-19 can see any eligible health provider through new telehealth items.  Patients in vulnerable groups can additionally see a health provider via telehealth for a non-COVID-19 matter if they have seen that provider, or another provider within the same practice, face-to-face at least once in the previous 12 months. Additional guides to these services for providers are available via MBS Online.

All services provided using the new MBS items must be bulk billed. The services will be available until 30 September 2020.

How much will this cost?

This will cost provisionally $100 million over 2019-20 and 2020-21.

Download this factsheet:  COVID-19 National Health Plan – Primary Care – Bulk Billed MBS Telehealth Services

 

 

UPDATE:  (23 March 2020) – Expansion of Telehealth Services  (media release – The Hon Greg Hunt MP, Minister for Health)

 

UPDATE:  (29 March 2020) – COVID-19: Whole of population telehealth for patients, general practice, primary care and other medical services (A joint media release withThe Hon Greg Hunt MP Minister for Health and Professor Michael Kidd AM, Principle Medical Advisor)

“To provide continued access to essential primary health services during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Australian Government is expanding Medicare-subsidised telehealth services for all Australians and providing extra incentives to general practitioners and other health practitioners.

These critical changes have been designed in partnership with key stakeholders in the sector including the Australian Medical Association, Australian College of Rural and Remote Medicine, Council of Presidents of Medical Colleges, National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation, Royal Australasian College of Physicians, Royal Australian College of General Practitioners, Rural Doctors Association of Australia, Allied Health Professionals Australia, Australian Psychological Society, and the Australian Primary Health Care Nurses Association.

We are making telehealth a key weapon in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic. Expanding the consultation services available by telehealth is the next critical stage in the Government’s response to COVID-19.

Services will include GP services and some consultation services provided by other medical specialists, nurse practitioners, mental health treatment, chronic disease management, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health assessments, services to people with eating disorders, pregnancy support counselling, services to patients in aged care facilities, children with autism, and after-hours consultations.

These changes represent the fourth stage of a series of primary care measures and will commence from 8am Monday 30 March.

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.

This will take pressure off hospitals and emergency departments. Whole of population telehealth will allow people to access essential health services in their home and will support self-isolation and quarantine policies to reduce risk of exposure and spread of COVID-19. It will also help vulnerable doctors to continue to deliver services to their patients.

The Government will double the bulk billing incentive for GPs both for face-to-face and telehealth services during the course of the COVID-19 response.

Doubling the bulk billing incentive will facilitate sustainable support for providers, and ensure concession and other vulnerable patients who need services continue to be provided with free, timely and appropriate access.

Further changes will be introduced during the week that will allow GPs and other providers to apply their usual billing practices to telehealth consultations, while concessional and vulnerable patients will continue to receive services at no cost.

In addition, the Government will establish an incentive payment to ensure practices stay open to provide face-to-face services where they are essential for patients with conditions that can’t be treated through telehealth.

The Government will continue to work on a further expansion of non-GP specialist telehealth under stage 5 in collaboration with the profession.

Our number one priority is protecting and supporting Australians who are vulnerable to COVID-19.

We are ensuring there are no unintended barriers to services for vulnerable patients. At the same time, we need to support GPs to keep their doors open during these extremely difficult times. These initiatives will support both them and their patients.

Patients should talk to their regular doctors about their most appropriate course of care, whether it should be via telehealth or face-to-face.

The new arrangements will commence on Monday 30 March and will be in place until 30 September 2020, when they will be reviewed in light of the need to continue our battle against COVID-19.”

 

 

Resource(s):Australian Government, Department of Health: https://www.health.gov.au/sites/default/files/documents/2020/03/covid-19-national-health-plan-primary-care-bulk-billed-mbs-telehealth-services_2.pdfMedicare Benefits Schedule:   http://www.mbsonline.gov.au/internet/mbsonline/publishing.nsf/Content/news-2020-03-01-latest-news-MarchAustralian Government, Prime Minister of Australia, Media release, 11 March 2020: https://www.pm.gov.au/media/24-billion-health-plan-fight-covid-19 Australian Government, Prime Minister of Australia, Media release, 29 March 2020: https://www.health.gov.au/ministers/the-hon-greg-hunt-mp/media/covid-19-whole-of-population-telehealth-for-patients-general-practice-primary-care-and-other-medical-services