Australians accessed almost a quarter of a million fewer subsidized psychology sessions last financial year, prompting psychologists to again urge the federal government to double the number available to patients and work to reduce high gap fees.
The latest data from the civil services, released last Wednesday, showed that the number of subsidized psychological sessions fell from 6.67 million in 2021-22 to 6.43 million in 2022-23.
Under the government’s Better Access scheme, patients with a GP-approved mental health care plan can receive a Medicare rebate of $93 per session with a general psychologist. The rebate increases to $137 per session with a clinical psychologist.
Australians accessing subsidized mental health services for the first time overall also fell slightly year-on-year as a proportion, from 26.4% in 2021-22 to 26.1% in 2022-23, the data showed showed.
The new figures coincide with a renewed push by peak psychological bodies and mental health experts to lower the cost barriers Australians face when trying to book a therapy session.
Survey data released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics in November showed that the number of people who put off seeing a health professional for mental health reasons because of the cost increased to 19.3% in 2022-23 from 16.7% in 2021-22.
The Australian Psychological Society (APS), one of two top national psychology bodies, said it was calling for the reintroduction of the extra 10 subsidized Medicare sessions a year for those with the most complex needs and the establishment of early intervention programs in the school system to address. the tendency.
The body’s chief executive, Zena Burgess, said its members continued to report that patients were “rationing” their sessions amid the cost of living crisis.
“This disturbing data shows that too many people cannot afford to see a psychologist when they need it,” she said.
“In a cost-of-living crisis, our most vulnerable should only need their Medicare card, not their credit card, to access psychological services. Making psychologists more affordable helps patients more quickly, while also reducing pressure on GPs, first responders and emergency departments.
“The reintroduction of 20 sessions for people with complex needs and those from disadvantaged groups will give people seeking help a better chance to thrive and live healthy lives.”
But Health Minister Mark Butler has so far resisted calls to restore the Coalition’s Covid-era policy, instead saying the decision has “worsened” access to the cheaper sessions and led to many Australians of lower income and in regional, rural and remote areas miss.
The Better Access report, released in December 2022, showed that the number of new people accessing psychology sessions fell by 7.25% between 2020 and 2021 and out-of-pocket costs of $74 per session in 2021 increasing to $90 in 2022.
It found that while the extra 10 sessions led to better outcomes, it “disproportionately” benefited people with relatively higher incomes in large cities. However, the review recommended that the extra 10 sessions remain, but instead target those with “complex mental health needs”.
Butler said 43,544 more people received Better Access sessions in 2023 compared to the same period in 2022.
“While this is a positive step, more work is needed so that all Australians – regardless of where they live or what their circumstances – can get the mental health care they need,” he said.
“The Government will continue to work with the sector and people with lived experience of mental illness to progress reform.”
An advisory committee, composed of experts and research groups, was formed to evaluate the program and recommend changes to improve access and affordability. It has met four times since September 2023.
Meanwhile, the Coalition and the Greens are calling for the immediate return to 20 cheaper therapy sessions a year, both of which point to the difficult financial circumstances in which households find themselves.
The shadow assistant minister for mental health, Melissa McIntosh, said figures from various reports paint a worrying picture of the growing mental health issue in the country.
She pointed to a recent Royal Australian College of General Practitioners’ Health of the Nation reportwhich showed that 72% of GPs rated mental health in their top three reasons for patient presentations.
“Australia’s mental health burden is among the highest in the world. On top of that, the mental health and cost of living crises are colliding,” McIntosh said.
“We are seeing Australians with mental health being left with no affordable options after the better access cuts as families struggle under this cost of living crisis.”
Greens senator and the party’s health spokesman Jordon Steele-John said bringing back 20 sessions was the “absolute least” the Albanian government could do to prevent people from rationing 10 sessions over the course of a year .
“It is past the crisis point. The government should explore other ways for people to get affordable mental health care, including expanding the range of mental health care professionals who can offer services through Medicare,” Steele-John said.
According to APSs schedule of recommended feespsychics are recommended to charge around $300 per session, which means the gap fee can vary between $100 and $200.