Many thousands of Australians with serious depression and anxiety disorders will be denied access to effective psychological treatment when Government funding cuts to the Better Access Medicare initiative are activated on 1 January 2013 without any viable alternatives.
The funding cuts will see the maximum number of sessions that a person can receive from a psychologist under Medicare cut from 16 sessions down to 10 sessions per year.
A recent study by the Australian Psychological Society (APS) has demonstrated that the vast majority of people who required the additional psychological treatment sessions that are due to be cut had severe depression or anxiety disorders with significant additional complexities such as family and relationship breakdown and drug and alcohol problems. The APS study demonstrated the effectiveness of psychological treatment and the need for more than 10 sessions of treatment in order to achieve this.
The Government’s rationale for the funding cuts is that affected people can seek alternative treatment through other Government mental health programs, public mental health services or private psychiatrists.
“There is simply not adequate funding in other Government programs to provide anywhere near enough services for the estimated 33,000 additional people per annum who will no longer be able to access the additional psychological treatment,” said Professor Littlefield. “These people would also be denied access to public sector mental health services because of the nature of their mental health problems, and these is a significant shortage of private psychiatrists available to meet this need,” she said.
“The reality is that people with serious depression and anxiety who are currently receiving effective and cost-effective treatment from psychologists under Medicare will not be able to access appropriate affordable alternative care,” Professor Littlefield said. “This is an unacceptable situation. When depression and anxiety is not adequately treated, there is a significant impact on personal and family stress, productivity and hospital admissions,” said Professor Littlefield.
While recognising the current constraints on the Federal Budget, the APS has provided a modest funding proposal to the Federal Government which would enable these many thousands of Australians with serious depression and anxiety disorders to be able to continue to access the appropriate length of effective and cost-efficient psychological treatment. The proposal recommends a process to ensure that the additional psychological sessions are provided to people demonstrating moderate to severe levels of psychological distress.
Note to editors:
The APS study demonstrated the effectiveness of psychological treatment and the need for more than 10 sessions of treatment in order to achieve this. Over 90% of people had a severe presentation at the commencement of treatment and at the end of session 10, 80% still demonstrated severe psychological distress. However, by the end of the 16th session only 20% continued to have a severe level of psychological distress. More details of the APS study are available on request.
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The APS is the largest professional organisation for psychologists in Australia, representing more than 20,500 members. The APS is committed to advancing psychology as a discipline and profession. It spreads the message that psychologists make a difference to people’s lives, through improving psychological knowledge and community wellbeing.