A draft recommendation aiming to eliminate Medicare funding for initial telehealth consultations with non-GP specialists is raising concerns about restricted access to essential healthcare, especially for vulnerable patients and those residing outside major population centers. The committee is expected to present its final recommendations to the federal government later this year.
What is MRAC?
The Medicare Benefits Schedule Review Advisory Committee (MRAC) plays a crucial role in assessing and recommending changes to the Medicare Benefits Schedule to ensure the effectiveness and accessibility of healthcare services in Australia. Through thorough reviews and consultations, MRAC contributes to shaping policies that impact the funding and delivery of medical services across the nation.
While the Australian Medical Association (AMA) supports many of the draft recommendations put forth by the review, concerns have been voiced about the potential adverse effects on patient access to non-GP specialist services, including mental health care.
Professor Steve Robson, President of the AMA, expressed serious reservations about the proposed removal of funding for the initial consultation with a specialist. He emphasized that this change could create obstacles for patients seeking timely healthcare, potentially requiring some individuals to travel significant distances to see a specialist.
According to Professor Robson, the decision to fund specialist consultations via telehealth or face-to-face should be based on clinical considerations and not seen as a one-size-fits-all approach. He criticized MRAC for seemingly disregarding research demonstrating the positive impact of telehealth, emphasizing that the proposed change appears to be more of a cost-cutting measure that could limit patient access.
In conclusion, Professor Robson highlighted the undeniable benefits of telehealth, citing the AMA’s report estimating substantial cost savings and emphasizing the need for continued availability of telehealth in emergency situations and for patients facing barriers to traditional care access.