Mental health expert calls for 'smart choices' on Medicare reform

8 February 2019
Professor Ian Hickie urges the Medicare review's mental health reference group to reconsider extending rebates to people "at risk" of mental illness, saying long-term reform will be compromised.

Professor Hickie from the University of Sydney is an internationally renowned researcher in clinical psychiatry and co-director of the Brain and Mind Centre. “We have this problem in Australia of thinking if everyone gets a little bit that's better than, actually, people getting better,” Professor Hickie said.

“Why has our national policy failed for 30 years? The simple answer; we focus on access rather than quality outcomes.”

Professor Ian Hickie.

Established in 2015, the Medicare Benefits Schedule Review is evaluating over 5,700 item numbers across the health sector.

This week the Mental Health Reference Group’s report was released and recommended up to 10 Medicare-funded therapy sessions a year for people who have not been diagnosed with a mental illness.

“The Productivity Commission review would be crucial to determining what structural changes might be needed to ensure the system was geared towards effective treatment outcomes, and that the health minister of the day must think carefully before making changes,” he said.

“The idea that access to mental healthcare will fix the problem means the more severe and complex problems will not be fixed.

“We need to take care of those who actually have complex cases and who actually result in the most healthcare, but also the most lost productivity - because they don't go to school and they don't go to work.

“A bundled care model, under which a larger sum could be allocated to put together a team of specialists - such as a GP, psychologist, mental health nurse and dietician - to provide a tailored "package of care" to the patient would be more beneficial. People need combined interventions - medical, psychological but also social, occupational and educational - to get an outcome.”

Professor Hickie is Co-Director of Health and Policy at the University of Sydney’s Brain and Mind Centre. The centre is a global leader in research and treatment for conditions of the brain and mind.

Kobi Print

Media and PR Adviser (Medicine & Health)

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