GPs overlook psychology referral guidelines
PATIENTS are commonly being referred for psychological treatment without mental health plans being completed first by their GP, an omission that could jeopardise their right to claim Medicare rebates.
One Victorian psychology practice has revealed up to half the patients referred to it by GPs come without mental health plans, which are supposed to be the cornerstone of the federal Government’s mental health reforms announced last year.
Under the reforms, which came into effect last November, patients can receive Medicare rebates for treatment by a psychologist, provided they have been referred by a GP who has completed a mental health plan for the patient.
They have also greatly widened the number of psychologists who can see patients under Medicare, in addition to the clinical psychologists who already had limited access to the scheme, by including a separate rebate for ‘‘ focused psychological strategies’’ provided by lesser-qualified psychologists, occupational therapists and social workers.
The new scheme overall is meant to promote co-operation and a team approach between GPs, psychiatrists and psychologists. It replaces a previous scheme, known as Better Outcomes in Mental Health, which had been criticised for its capped nature, which saw funds in many areas exhausted before it had run its course.
The previous scheme also required GPs to complete a training scheme in order to participate in the program, a hurdle the new arrangements have dispensed with.
But doctor Jan Hall, from the Richmond Psychology Clinic in Melbourne, says that since the new arrangements came into force last November patients referred to the clinic by a GP who had completed a mental health plan accounted for 24 per cent of total referrals.
Patients referred by a GP with a plain letter, and no mental health plan, accounted for 21 per cent.
Explanatory notes at the back of the November 2006 edition of the Medicare Benefits Schedule say rebates will not be payable for psychology treatment ‘‘ unless . . . the patient is being managed under a GP Mental Health Care Plan’’.
Assuming the patient is eligible, the Medicare rebate for an initial assessment of up to 12 planned treatment sessions with a clinical psychologist is $110 per consultation, or $75 if the treatment is provided by one of the lesser-qualified psychologists.
However, most psychologists charge well