Senate debates

Tuesday, 27 September 2022

Statements by Senators

Medicare: Mental Health

1:56 pm

Photo of Tammy TyrrellTammy Tyrrell (Tasmania, Jacqui Lambie Network) Share this | | Hansard source

We tell people to get mental health support when they're not feeling great. We say: 'It's okay to not be okay. Go and talk to someone about what's on your mind.' So why are we making it so hard for people to get help? Medicare subsidy item 288 ended on 1 January this year. This item helped people in rural and regional areas to access subsidised psychiatrist appointments by telehealth. Mental health providers were only given two weeks notice of this—over the Christmas period, no less. Merry Christmas!

Around 8,000 Tasmanians accessed psychologist appointments under item 288 last financial year. Most of these people can't afford to pay the full fee of seeing a psychologist without the subsidy. One provider told me that 90 per cent of their patients stopped seeing their psychiatrist when this subsidy cut out. The provider told me that patients were in tears when they found out. Their patients are homeless, long-term unemployed, single parents and pensioners, all people who desperately need these services. One Tasmanian mama told me her teenage daughter had been seeing a psychiatrist by telehealth. Without the subsidy, she'd be $100 out of pocket. She couldn't afford that. This woman felt like she was failing her daughter because she couldn't pay for the help her daughter needed. But I bet that mama went without to make sure her daughter was able to have those appointments. There's nothing worse as a parent than not being able to give your child the help they need.

During the election, Labor said they would bring back item 288, and I was really pleased to hear that because I know how much people have been struggling without it. But since the election we've heard crickets. There have been no updates, no splashy announcements, nothing that says when this Medicare subsidy will come back into play for the people who desperately need it. I'm hoping that October's budget will bring back item 288. I know spending is being kept to a minimum, but people shouldn't be punished for living in a rural and regional area. Government shouldn't be saying, 'Hey, because you don't live in a city, Medicare won't help you.' We can't put a price on people's mental health.