Bulk-billed telehealth and other COVID-19 measures extended until March

Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt. Picture: Elesa Kurtz
Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt. Picture: Elesa Kurtz

Bulk-billed telehealth services are set to be extended until the end of March, with the government to spend an extra $2 billion on continuing health measures to deal with the coronavirus pandemic.

Appointments with GPs, midwives, allied health and allied mental health practitioners are included in the telehealth scheme, which has been lauded as an important part of the country's response to the virus.

Originally introduced at the start of the pandemic, the bulk-billed telehealth measure was set to expire at the end of September, but there have been calls for it to be extended, particularly in Victoria where metropolitan Melbourne is still under strict stay-at-home rules.

Medical groups like the Australian Medical Association and Royal Australian College of General Practitioners have called for the measures to be extended by six months, and Labor wants the telehealth items introduced to Medicare to be made a permanent part of Australia's public health system.

Health Minister Greg Hunt said more than 30 million consultations have been done through telehealth since the start of the pandemic, and the measure would now be extended to cover some specialist services like consultant physician, geriatrician, and neurosurgery services.

In the ACT there have been 333,239 services delivered by telehealth to 141,868 patients. More than 10 million patients have used telehealth across the country.

Tests for coronavirus will also continue to be bulk-billed, and the federal government will continue to pay for 50 per cent of the costs of responding to the pandemic in hospitals. The agreement with the private hospital system to make beds available will also continue.

"By providing telehealth and home-delivery medicine services we are reducing the risk of exposure of COVID-19 in the community while also supporting people in isolation to get the care they need," Prime Minister Scott Morrison said.

"Importantly this also includes mental health services, delivered over the phone, by trained specialists and GPs."

This story Bulk-billed telehealth and other COVID-19 measures extended until March first appeared on The Canberra Times.

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