AMA repeats call for Medicare telehealth extension

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The AMA has restated its call for the federal government to further extend the temporary telehealth Medicare item numbers introduced last year in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The AMA said the items, which are currently due to end in June, need to be extended given the context of the most recent number of reported COVID-19 cases in Brisbane.

The items were quickly introduced in the early period of the pandemic in response to a national lockdown and restrictions designed to limit direct contact between healthcare professionals and their patients.

“The Queensland outbreak and the flow-on impact on other states is a timely reminder that the pandemic is far from over,” said AMA President Dr Omar Khorshid.

“With the emergence of new and more transmissible COVID-19 variants, it is unlikely that this will be the last lockdown before the end of the year.

“But we cannot become complacent. We must continue to plan for the worst.

“We know that every time there is an outbreak, thousands of people face requirements to self-isolate and telehealth ensures these patients can continue to assess care.  

“Telehealth remains fundamental to the national effort to contain the spread of COVID-19, by protecting the health workforce, while reducing the need for unwell patients to move around the community."

The federal government has already extended the telehealth items from the end of September last year to June. Many private health insurers have also extended their coverage during the pandemic to include some healthcare professional telehealth consultations.

“We need to maintain continuity of care for patients during any future lockdown," continued Dr Khorshid.

“We need a telehealth framework that can operate in the context of a pandemic response, which is exactly what these temporary telehealth items are designed to do."

The AMA said it understands the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee, which is comprised of the country's chief medical and health officers, has already recommended the federal government extend the temporary telehealth items until the end of the year.

"The AMA calls on the Government to take this expert medical advice," said the association.

"The AMA has been in discussions with the Department of Health about a long-term plan for telehealth, and we know that the Government is committed to making it a permanent feature of our health system. But the temporary items will continue to be required until the pandemic ends, and a permanent telehealth solution is designed and implemented," it said.

“Being able to reassure all Australians that the temporary telehealth items remain in place for the whole year, supporting a doctor to be at the other end of the phone during any future lockdowns, is peace of mind the Government can deliver right now,” added Dr Khorshid.