Medicare Benefits rebate for telehealth statement

Access to Medicare Benefits Schedule (MBS) rebatable telehealth has recently changed, restricting access to essential healthcare for clients of Family Planning NSW.

Under the new telehealth model there is no access to Medicare rebates to provide care to new clients or those who have not been treated by a FPNSW doctor in the past year. Many of our clients are likely to be affected by this if they do not have a regular GP, do not feel comfortable accessing reproductive and sexual healthcare through their regular GP, or have not needed to see our specialised doctors in the past year.

In three months, FPNSW used the Medicare rebate to deliver healthcare by telehealth to around 1500 clients in 1900 consultations. Contraception, gynaecological problems and STI help were leading reasons people accessed our telehealth service during the COVID-19 lockdown.

Further, young people - those aged 20-29 - were the top users of our telehealth service during the COVID-19 lockdown. In fact, more than 700 people aged 20-29 sought essential reproductive and sexual healthcare through our telehealth service.

Changes to telehealth mean many of our clients can no longer access care this way. It is our strong concern these new restrictions to the Medicare rebatable scheme will have unforeseen impacts on people needing essential and time-sensitive healthcare including access to contraception, emergency gynaecological help, pregnancy care, abortion and STI support.

Our prudent use of telehealth by high needs groups included young people, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, culturally and linguistically diverse communities, people in rural and remote areas and people with disability. These changes to the Medicare rebates for telehealth significantly restrict our clients' access to telehealth and as such threatens our capacity to continue delivering vital healthcare to some of the most marginalised communities.

We recognise the foresight of the government in introducing telehealth as a Medicare rebatable item at the early onset of management of COVID-19 and we urge the Government to recognise the unique nature of services provided by specialised reproductive and sexual healthcare and to reinstate Medicare funded telehealth for all our clients.

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