AMA calls on government to extend Medicare for telehealth

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The AMA says it has written to health minister Greg Hunt calling for the temporary extension of telehealth arrangements under Medicare.

These arrangements, which were put in place as part of the Government’s COVID-19 response, are currently due to end on 30 September. 

A number of private health insurers have already extended benefits paid for some ancillary services delivered by telehealth.

“The AMA has long advocated for Medicare-subsidised telehealth consultations, and the COVID-19 arrangements have shown the value of telehealth,” said AMA president, Dr Omar Khorshid.

They have supported the provision of care during these very difficult times and contributed to efforts to contain the spread of the virus. Telehealth has been embraced by doctors and the public alike. 

When the September deadline was decided, there was some optimism that Australia may be over the worst of the pandemic by this time. We now know that the virus will be with us well past the end of September 

Victoria is in the midst of a second wave of infections, and NSW is increasingly struggling in its daily battle to reduce its daily infection numbers. Most other States have also seen new infections, albeit at very low levels."

Dr Khorshid said an extension until March next year would align with the timing of the JobKeeper program extension.

Telehealth remains fundamental to our national efforts to contain the spread of COVID-19, and ending the temporary Medicare arrangements in September would be premature.  

“The telehealth arrangements also ensure that patients who are self-isolating can still access care.  

The AMA has been in discussions with the Department of Health about a long-term plan for telehealth in Australia, and has previously applauded the Minister’s commitment to making telehealth a permanent feature of our health system.  

However, in the short termwe need a telehealth framework that can operate in the context of a pandemic response.