Throughout the coronavirus pandemic, the government has announced a range of measures to support the mental health of Australians right across the country.
One of the most significant developments came on 30 March, when bulk-billing became available for online and over-the-phone appointments with eligible mental health services. Now, telehealth services are available to all Australians, allowing many to receive support and treatment from a mental health professional remotely. Private health insurance will also cover one-on-one psychology teleconsultations.
Further, on 15 May, the government announced an additional $48 million package for mental health. The funds will be channeled into real-time research, outreach to vulnerable communities, and national communication.
As well as this, there are a number of other ways that you can seek support during the coronavirus lockdown.
Telehealth services or teleconsultations use audio or video services to discuss symptoms, advice and diagnoses so that you don't have to visit your GP or go to hospital. They're intended to help clinics and hospitals avoid being overwhelmed with patients who can be treated remotely and to help minimise the spread of coronavirus.
Both the government and private health funds have expanded telehealth coverage to include mental health services. You can get support from the following:
The Australian government has announced that $669 million will be provided to help expand Medicare subsidies for telehealth services. This lets GPs and other health professionals consult with patients over the phone or via video calls rather than face-to-face.
Under the Better Access initiative, anyone with a mental health issue is covered for up to 10 sessions with a qualified psychiatrist, psychologist or other appropriately trained mental health professional. To be eligible, you need to consult with your GP and get a mental health treatment plan and referral. Like the sessions themselves, this will now be done over the phone or via telehealth. Remember that you'll still be covered for just 10 sessions.
Currently, counsellors are not part of the Medicare scheme. You can only obtain a Medicare rebate for services provided by psychologists, occupational therapists or social workers (with a GP referral).
Private health insurance
A number of health funds will cover Australians' access to teleconsultations for psychology services. You don't need to see a GP first or have a mental health treatment plan. You also won't be limited to 10 sessions, but your plan will have a set dollar limit, which you are allowed to claim throughout the year.
Mental health services are included with extras policies. With extras or packaged cover, your health fund can pay towards the cost of psychology, counselling and online CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) under its mental health category.
Mental Health hotlines
Many Private health funds have now expanded their mental health coverage to include telehealth consultations. There are a couple of caveats though. These include:
- The patient must be undergoing an existing course of treatment and must have seen the psychologist providing the telehealth consultation sometime over the past six months.
- For new patients, the telepsychology service must have been recommended by their GP.
- The service must be delivered before 30 September 2020.
- The service must be undertaken in accordance with the Australian Psychological Society guidelines.
- As always, you might have to serve a waiting period. Usually, this is around two months long.
The table below lists some of the private health insurance providers covering you for a number of telehealth mental health services. Speak directly to your health fund about telehealth services for more information.
|Bupa||Bupa will reimburse you up to a certain amount for the cost of psychology, counselling and online CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) with most of its extras policies.||To find out more about Bupa's telehealth services, call 1300 030 238 to speak with one of its health professionals. You can also register now for a call-back telehealth service.|
|Medibank||Medibank has a number of mental health professionals and counsellors available to speak to online, with services including comprehensive assessment, triage and referral, crisis intervention and response coordination, case management and telephone counselling. There's no waiting period on psychology services (this may differ for online services). Telehealth services for psychology are available between 14 April and 30 September 2020.||Call 1800 644 325 or chat online.|
|HCF||HCF offers online video sessions with a mental health professional, access to digital prescriptions, support and treatment for anxiety, depression and stress and more.||If you need to speak to someone now, call Lifeline on 13 11 14. You can sign up online.|
|Australian Unity||Where appropriate, you can now claim benefits for telehealth consultations on your Extras cover for Psychology.|
As part of your Australian Unity Hospital cover you may have access to Mindstep®, a phone-based program delivered by trained mental health coaches.
|You can claim telehealth benefits on your extras cover the same as you usually would.|
Call the Mindstep team on 1800 322 278 to confirm your eligibility.
|Frank||Telehealth psychology consultation benefits apply from 1 April to 30 September 2020.||You can claim telehealth benefits on your extras cover the same as you usually would.|
Call 1300 437 265 for more information.
|GMHBA||GMHBA has introduced new ancillary benefits for Telehealth psychology services.||You can claim telehealth benefits on your extras cover the same as you usually would.|
Call 1300 481 494 for more information.
|HBF||Temporary benefits for certain Psychology and Clinical Psychology treatments when delivered via phone or video channels.||Claim online through your HBF account.|
|health.com.au||Telehealth psychology consultation benefits apply from 1 April to 30 September 2020.||Claim through your online account.|
|nib||Telehealth services for psychology are temporarily available until further notice.||Take a photo of your receipt to claim in the nib App or Online Services.|
As most of us have had to dramatically alter the way we live, it's important that we know where we can seek mental health support. Here are some of the places that you can find help:
Feeling financial stress?
If you're struggling to keep up with your finances, you're not alone. You can reduce your spending by doing some simple admin and going over your bills and expenses. Even switching your credit card or downgrading your mobile phone plan could save you some money.
Managing your daily finances can help you get through this difficult time. You'll be glad you did it.