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David Baxter

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Therapy rebates expanded
October 09, 2006
by Lachlan Heywood and Alex Murdoch, The Courier Mail

PRIME Minister John Howard will announce a major expansion of Medicare funding for mental health at the national launch of Mental Health Week today.

Rebates will be offered for group or one-on-one sessions run by social workers, occupational therapists and psychiatrists under changes that will come into effect next month. They are in addition to rebates for visits to psychologists, announced in April.
The expansion would cost $538 million over five years.

Speaking after yesterday's local launch of Mental Health Week at Brisbane's South Bank Piazza, Mr Howard said the measures were part of the Commonwealth's new $1.9 billion commitment to improving the treatment of mental illness.

"This new plan is a major reshaping of the way we provide treatment for mental health problems in Australia," he said.

Under the new rules, people referred to mental health professionals by their GP, and patients seeing psychiatrists for the first time will be eligible for Medicare rebates.

More than one in 10 people have a long-term mental or behavioural problem, almost twice the rate of 10 years ago.

A snapshot of mental health, released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics last month, shows mood and anxiety-related problems are the most common complaints.

Labor's health spokeswoman Julia Gillard said the Government had failed to identify the real issues in mental health.

"Under this scheme the people most in need of care still won't get it, either because there are no psychologists and psychiatrists in their town or they simply can't afford to pay," she said.

Mr Howard said mental illness can strike all age groups.

"In any six-month period, more than 500,000 children and teenagers will experience some kind of mental illness," he said.

"Australian health professionals are amongst the best in the world. The major enhancement of Medicare that I will announce later today will assist them to do even more in helping their fellow Australians with a mental disorder."
 

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