The followings are key findings from the online poll of 763 GPs about the changes to the Medicare Benefits Schedule (MBS) announced in the 2011/12 Federal Budget, that will reduce the level of Medicare rebates payable to patients who need GP mental health services:
What is the current situation?
- 80% of GPs had undertaken the additional mental health training required under MBS arrangements to utilise the GP Mental Health Treatment Plan item number 2710.
- For the two existing GP Mental Health Treatment Plan item numbers being 2702 (42%) and 2710 (47%), GPs were overall more likely to select 30-40 minutes as being the average face-to-face time associated with the relevant consultation item.
- In relation to item number 2710, which is the most commonly used of the two GP mental health planning items, 77% of GPs advised that they spent in access of 30 minutes face-to-face with patients. The overall average face-to-face time spent with patients for this item number was 35 minutes.
- In addition to face-to-face consultation time with patients, GPs also spend significant time undertaking non face-to-face work. For example, it would appear that in relation to the preparation of a GP Mental Health Treatment Plan (item number 2710) it involves an average of 35 minutes face-to-face time with patients along with a further 17 minutes of non face-to-face work. This takes the average total time involved in the preparation of a plan to 52 minutes.
- For all of the current Medicare items for GP mental health services, the majority of GPs stated that 80-100% of patients were bulk-billed, meaning that most patients do not currently face out of pocket costs for these services.
- Bulk billing appears to be more prevalent in regional and rural areas. What impact will the Government’s funding cuts have when they come into effect on 1 November?
- It appears likely that up to 50% of GPs will be forced to maintain their current fee and charge patients a gap, whereas many patients currently face no out of pocket costs.
- It appears likely that up to 28% of GPs will stop utilising Medicare GP Mental Health Treatment items.
- 85% of GPs think that the Budget cuts will reduce patient access to mental health services.
- 58% of GPs think that the Budget cuts will lead them to spend less time with patients with mental health problems.
- 540 GPs took the time to provide comments and the vast majority of these were very critical of the Government’s decision to cut Medicare rebates for GP mental health services and the impact this will have on patients’ access to services.