Heading into the 2022 Federal Budget, AAPi was very clear with our recommendations. We had four core recommendations that we believe would have the greatest impact:
- One-tier Medicare rebate for the clients of all psychologists in Australia
- Raising the Medicare rebate to $150 per session so people can afford to see a psychologist when they need to
- Implementing the Productivity Commission recommendation for up to 40 rebated sessions each year
- Establishing a provisional psychologist Medicare rebate - we currently have around 6,400 provisional psychologists.
We had also made direct requests on top of our core recommendations separate to our pre-budget submission. We asked for:
- Funding for more psychologists in schools. We want a national benchmark of a minimum of 1 psychologist per 500 students in all schools
- The same incentives and schemes as doctors and nurses (such as those that wipe HECS debt) working in regional, rural and remote practices
- More funding to build our workforce and support future and early career psychologists
- Mental health support for psychologists
- Changes to MBS funded case-conferencing
- Bushfire Medicare item numbers be extended to all disasters, such as the recent and ongoing floods, that allow self-referral to a psychologist for up to 10 sessions a year
- Funding for assessments
- Continued and expanded access to psychologists for aged care
- Access to mental health care for vulnerable groups
- Proper investment in the NDIS
- The reduction of red-tape and administrative burden on psychologists.
Last night, AAPi Chief Services Officer Amanda Curran and I attended the 2022 Federal Budget with the Minister for Health, the Assistant Minister to the Prime Minister for Mental Health and Suicide Prevention and the Minister for Senior Australians and Aged Care Services.
Unfortunately this Budget only allows for an additional $648 million in spending for mental health. For such a pivotal aspect of our community, this is nowhere near sufficient. As usual, there is insufficient detail in the budget documents to know how this will impact members. We are requesting further information and will provide in-depth details to members at a later date.
Some of the positive budget announcements include:
- Funding towards workforce development
- Continuation of item numbers for bushfire victims and the additional funding for mental health care of those impacted by the floods
- Mental health support for vulnerable community members, including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, multicultural communities and victims of domestic violence
- Permanent telehealth.
AAPi also welcomes the much-needed investment in suicide prevention, eating disorder treatment and services such as crisis lines, but more is needed to ease the escalation of our mental health crisis and support our existing and future mental health workforce.
We are happy to see that our calls for more investment and support of provisional psychologists have been noticed - with 75 internships for provisional psychologists announced and support for the safe use of the provisional psychologist workforce to deliver services, and the provision of 150 free Psychology Board of Australia endorsed supervisor training sessions- the question remains as to whether this will lead to more psychologists achieving full registration.
If we are going to have a stronger, more resilient Australia, as referenced in the Government rhetoric, then we need to make decisions that are as big as the issues Australia's mental health faces.
We have a serious problem in that the measures announced don't fully address the elephant in the room: a workforce that is smaller than demand, areas of psychology facing extinction, and insufficient rebates for the majority of Australians.
Too much of this budget is a band-aid solution, and the stakes are too high for that. As a nation, our mental health has been collectively challenged like never before. The frustration of getting help when we really need it is wearing us thin and those providing the help are even more fed up. Our late 2021 Private Practice Survey showed 78% of clients exhibited more distress, anxiety, or depression, with 47% of psychologists unable to take on new clients.
This Budget did not address AAPi’s key concerns with regards to workforce shortages and chronic underfunding of pivotal services such as Medicare, rural and remote services and school psychologists. Without raising the Medicare rebate to $150 for the clients of all psychologists, access to affordable mental health care remains out of reach for hundreds of thousands of people.
Keep in mind this is a pre-election budget, so if a change in government occurs in the coming months, the budget can change. We have met with all sides of politics to ensure all parties have a clear understanding of our recommendations.
We also expect further mental health funding announcements as part of the election cycle after the Better Access evaluation is complete. AAPi will be working tirelessly to ensure mental health remains a priority and a key election issue.
We look forward to continuing to represent our members to create a fairer system, with equal access for all.
You can find the Budget summaries here.