Concerns for aged care residents as they lose access to mental health care plans

Elderly fall victim to Medicare loophole

Vulnerable Tasmanians in aged care lose access to their mental health care due to a “discriminatory” Medicare loophole. 

Royal Australian College of General Practitioners president, Tasmanian GP Dr Bastian Seidel, said the loss did “not make sense as moving into residential care is stressful even for patients who do not have a mental illness, never mind for the ones who already suffer from depression and/or anxiety”. 

He said residents lost access to psychologists who they had built trusting rapports with over years. 

“Patients who were diagnosed with a mental illness by a GP should be entitled to access psychological interventions under a MHTP whether they are living in the community independently or in a residential aged care facility,” Dr Seidel said.

“Anything else is discriminatory against older, vulnerable patients, it does not make sense and should be changed.”

The MHTP provides patients up to 10 subsidised sessions with a psychologist per calendar year. 

Aged and Community Services Tasmania chief executive Darren Mathewson said changes to the Aged Care Funding Instrument, coming into effect this year, would “make the delivery of mental health services more difficult”. 

“Aged care providers take mental health issues very seriously and work closely with other organisations to provide treatment and support services to those who may be suffering from symptoms of anxiety or depression,” Mr Mathewson said. 

“The federal government has a responsibility to make mental health treatments and services readily accessible and available to all Australians, including those living in residential aged care.”

A Federal Department of Health spokeswoman said the Medicare Benefits Schedule Review Taskforce was considering how items on the schedule could be “better aligned with contemporary clinical evidence and practice, and improve health outcomes for patients”. 

She said Commonwealth-funded residents of residential aged care facilities were not eligible for the GP Better Access initiative. 

“The Review Chair is establishing a special Mental Health Services Clinical Committee this year and one of the issues it will be looking closely at is access to services through the Better Access initiative for residential aged care,” the spokeswoman said. 

Health Minister Michael Ferguson said the state government’s Rethink Mental Health plan specifically identified the importance of links between the mental health and aged care sectors.