The Federal Government is not committing to remove current restrictions that prevent aged care residents from accessing Medicare-funded psychology sessions, despite a growing chorus of experts calling for a change and mounting media coverage of the issue.
Instead the Commonwealth has referred the issue to its ongoing review of the Medicare Benefits Schedule.
The ABC yesterday became the latest media outlet to report on the current exclusions preventing aged care residents from the Better Access scheme that provides 10 subsidised sessions with a psychologist, despite studies showing that half of residents have depression.
It follows in-depth reports on the issue in Fairfax newspapers earlier this month.
The exclusion of residents from psychological help has long been a source of concern among mental health professionals, consumer groups and aged care providers (see some of AAA’s previous coverage here and here).
An Australian-first study last year found that access to psychologists in residential aged care remains poor and cited the lack of government funding as among the barriers to accessing treatment.
On Monday the Australian Psychological Society, which represents Australia’s psychologists, issued a statement calling on the government to introduce Medicare-funded psychological treatment for seniors living in residential care.
APS executive director, Professor Lyn Littlefield said it was an issue of equity of access:
“If residents were living in the community they could access psychological treatment under Medicare, but because they need residential care they are excluded from receiving best practice care.”
Yesterday AAA asked Assistant Minister for Aged Care Ken Wyatt’s office whether the government planned to remove the current exclusion of aged care residents from the Better Access program.
A response, which came from the Department of Health, said the chair of the Medicare Benefits Schedule Review Taskforce is establishing a mental health services clinical committee this year and “one of the issues it will be looking closely at is access to services through the Better Access initiative for residential aged care.”
“Consultation and transparency are integral to the MBS review process and stakeholders’ views would be considered in any future review of the initiative,” the department’s response said.
Aged and Community Services Australia and Council on the Ageing Australia have also called for an end to the current exclusion of residents from the Better Access initiative.
Mental health in aged care – AAA coverage:
- Psychologists call for funding changes to allow residents access services
- Mental health remains a ‘critical concern’ for aged care: expert
- Government’s mental health reforms criticised for ignoring seniors
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