Medicare Benefits Schedule Better Access initiative – mental health support for aged care residents during the COVID-19 pandemic

The expanded eligibility for aged care residents under the Better Access to Psychiatrists, Psychologists and General Practitioners through the Medicare Benefits Schedule (Better Access) initiative, through GP referral, ceases on 31 December 2022.

Aged care residents can continue to access Better Access services if they are referred by a psychiatrist, consistent with pre-pandemic arrangements and eligibility requirements.

The expanded eligibility for aged care residents under the Better Access to Psychiatrists, Psychologists and General Practitioners through the Medicare Benefits Schedule (Better Access), through GP referral, ceases on 31 December 2022.

This temporary measure, in response to the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety COVID-19 special report recommendations, allows aged care residents whose mental health was impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic to access  up to 20 Medicare subsidised individual psychological services each calendar year through their GP, in line with broader access in the community. Access to these sessions is available to 31 December 2022.

Aged care residents can continue to access Better Access services if they are referred by a psychiatrist, consistent with pre-pandemic arrangements and eligibility requirements.

Better Access Evaluation

An evaluation of Better Access was completed in December 2022. Future arrangements will be informed by the evaluation findings. The evaluation report is available online. 

About the initiative

The purpose of the Better Access initiative is to improve access to mental health treatment and management of mental illness.

Under Better access, General Practitioners are encouraged to work more closely and collaboratively with psychiatrists, clinical psychologists, registered psychologists, occupational therapists and social workers.

Eligibility requirements

The Better Access initiative is available to patients with a diagnosed mental disorder who would benefit from a structured approach to treatment.

Mental disorder is a term used to describe a range of clinically diagnosable disorders that significantly interfere with an individual's cognitive, emotional or social abilities. Dementia, delirium, tobacco use disorder and mental retardation are not regarded as mental disorders for the purposes of this initiative, but may co-exist with mental disorders.

Other services

A range of other mental health services and supports are available to aged care residents.

Primary Health Networks (PHNs)

Primary Health Networks (PHNs), in consultation with Residential Aged Care Facilities, commission in-reach mental health services in a stepped-care approach for eligible residents with a mental illness.

Services are delivered across the spectrum of the stepped-care approach, including low intensity interventions and individual psychological therapies by a range of mental health professionals including psychologists, social workers, occupational therapists, mental health nurses and counsellors.

Find contact details for your local PHN by and click on the Map Locator.

Beyond Blue phone counselling service

Beyond Blue offers a 24/7 phone counselling service (1800 512 348). This service is staffed by trained counsellors to help people experiencing stress or anxiety.

Head to Health

Digital services can be used to complement, or as an alternative to, face-to-face therapies, allowing aged care residents to seek support in times of need or when most convenient.

The Government’s digital mental health gateway, Head to Health, is a consumer-friendly website that aims to help people more easily access information, advice and free or low cost phone and online counselling, treatment and crisis support. 

Chronic disease management

If a resident has a chronic disease, they may be eligible for MBS services under a General Practitioner Management Plan (GPMP) and Team Care Arrangements (TCA). Patients being managed under a GPMP and TCA are eligible for Medicare rebates for certain allied health services, on referral from their GP.

Eligible allied health services are: Aboriginal health work; audiology; chiropractic; diabetes education; dietetics; exercise physiology; mental health work; occupational therapy; osteopathy; physiotherapy; podiatry; psychology; and speech pathology.

Information about chronic disease management (CDM) services can be found on the Department of Health website by searching for 'chronic disease management'.

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