Budget Statement

Posted on 27 October 2022

 

On Tuesday, the new Federal Government handed down its budget. Regarding mental healthcare investment, one word sums up the result, disappointing. AAPi is featured in The Australian today discussing this in more detail as well as advocating for the additional 10 Better Access sessions to be extended.

Heading into the budget, we made several recommendations to improve access to mental health care and allow the psychology profession to do what we want to do, help more. Our recommendations for inclusion in the budget included:

  • 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.
  • Extend the additional 10 Better Access sessions and ideally allow up to 40 sessions annually for those most in need.
  • Establish a provisional psychologist Medicare rebate.
  • Funding for more psychologists in schools.
  • Greater investment in our regional, rural and remote workforce.
  • Funding to further grow our workforce and support future and early career psychologists and their supervisors.
  • Improvements to existing MBS-funded case-conferencing so these can be utilised to improve client care.
  • A greater focus on prevention and early intervention including Medicare funded couples counselling and family therapy.
  • Expand the Bushfire Medicare item numbers to include all disasters, such as the recent and ongoing floods, that allow self-referral to a psychologist for up to 10 sessions a year.
  • Medicare funding for psychological testing and assessments.
  • Proper investment in the NDIS and psychological therapy.

Almost none of this appeared in the budget and precious little for mental health care overall. During Tuesday night's health sector briefing from Canberra, Minister Butler was asked about the lack of mental health funding, and he clearly acknowledged that this was not a big mental health budget. Minister Butler pointed to further work needing to be undertaken, namely the conclusion of the Better Access Evaluation and Strengthening Medicare Taskforce before the government could decide what to invest in further. Frustratingly we don't have any further clarity about whether the additional 10 Better Access sessions will continue after December 2022.

Despite the Medicare review having begun over 5 years ago, we still have not seen the rebates reviewed or significant positive change. The government is aware of the success of Better Access but is waiting for the final report of yet another review while the Productivity Commission and Select Committee into Mental Health and Suicide Prevention reports lay gathering dust on the shelf.

We have raised our concerns with the Media and the Government, and we look forward to a more positive announcement and investment in psychology and allied health at the conclusion of the Better Access Evaluation and Strengthening Medicare Taskforce later this year.

So, what was included in the budget?

Some rays of hope

  • $26.2 million will fund a new national network of perinatal mental health and wellbeing centres. Those working in this area would understand how grossly underfunded perinatal mental health services are and that they are non-existent in some areas.
  • Positive announcements regarding NDIS funding. Read more about this here, including commentary from AAPi.
  • The government is investing $1.3 million to improve health outcomes for LGBTQI+ people by addressing their unique health needs and experiences.
  • Development of a National Centre of Excellence in Intellectual Disability Health costing $23.9 million over 4 years.
  • $164.3 million to deliver 17 critical First Nations health infrastructure projects across the country.
  • Further funding to headspace.

 Initiatives that may be positive, but we need further information

  • $114 million in several initiatives to be announced soon.
  • Australians living in rural and regional areas will benefit from a $185.3 million workforce package that will support more doctors, nurses, and allied health professionals to work in regional and rural communities and improve treatment and care for patients.
  • There is $24.7 million in funding to attract, support, and retain rural health professionals through the successful Innovative Models of Care program. The program supports healthcare professionals and communities to implement sustainable and comprehensive solutions tailored to their unique local healthcare needs.
  • More health workers will be eligible for salary support through the Workforce Incentive Program thanks to this budget's $29.4 million expansion. This will allow practices to employ a greater range of health workers as part of high-quality multidisciplinary teams.
  • If implemented, other initiatives such as domestic violence prevention, better paid parental leave, and more affordable housing will positively impact community mental health.

Given the devastating impact of COVID-19, multiple natural disasters, increasing levels of mental ill-health, and unprecedented demand, we are dismayed about the lack of investment in mental healthcare. While we acknowledge that there are many competing demands on Federal Government funds, we cannot ignore the millions of Australians who need more affordable and accessible mental health care today. We will continue to push for the necessary changes that must occur.