Published 2 December 2020, revised 23 December 2020
Allied Health Professions Australia (AHPA) and its members have welcomed the announcement by the federal Minister for Health and Aged Care, introducing new COVID-19 measures to support access to allied health care for aged care residents. These measures address the physical and mental health needs of aged care residents arising from the pandemic, and respond to the Aged Care Royal Commission special report on COVID-19 in aged care.
The new Medicare measures commenced on December 10, 2020 and will be available until June 30, 2022. Fact sheets from the Department of Health containing information about the temporary measures and MBS item numbers are now available from MBS Online.
In addition to the Medicare measures, the government has also announced targeted block funding, delivered through Primary Health Networks (PHNs), for aged care facilities in New South Wales, Victoria and Tasmania that have experienced COVID-19 outbreaks and extended lockdowns. This PHN-funded program is currently being finalised and will be in place for six months. Longer-term access will be subject to evaluation by government. Additional detail about the various measures is available below.
AHPA will be working closely with the Commonwealth to support the introduction of the new measures. We’ll be assisting with the development of guidance materials for general practitioners about the new items and role of individual allied health professions. AHPA will also seek to support the PHNs in their implementation of the new measure for residential homes that have experienced outbreaks.
We gratefully acknowledge the work of the new Commonwealth Chief Allied Health Officer, Anne-marie Boxall, and her colleagues in the Department of Health who have worked to develop the new measures.
Expanded mental health access
Under the new funding, Medicare Better Access to Psychiatrists, Psychologists and General Practitioners program, which currently funds up to 20 face-to-face sessions with a psychologist, mental health occupational therapist, or mental health social worker, will now be available to any residents of an aged care home. The Better Access items will continue to require a GP referral for an initial six sessions with additional referrals required to access the next blocks of four and ten sessions. All allied health professions eligible to provide services under the Better Access program will be eligible to claim a flag fall to assist in the cost of travelling to a residential aged care facility. Providers will be able to claim one flag fall item per visit to a facility regardless of how many services are provided at that facility.
Expanded allied health access
The government has also made changes to the Medicare Chronic Disease Management (CDM) program, a program that provides access to a wide range of allied health services. The CDM program is currently capped at five annual sessions across all allied health disciplines. However, the new announcements provide additional access for aged care residents with new assessment items, travel allowances and additional sessions:
- all allied health professions eligible to provide services under the CDM program will be eligible to claim one annual assessment item per aged care resident. This applies for each profession separately.
- all allied health professions eligible to provide services under the CDM program will be eligible to claim a flag fall to assist in the cost of travelling to a residential aged care facility. Providers will be able to claim one flag fall item per visit regardless of how many services are provided at that facility.
- three professions—physiotherapy, occupational therapy and exercise physiology—will be eligible to provide an additional five annual sessions to aged care residents. This will bring the total annual number of sessions that aged care residents can access up to ten, with five restricted to the new COVID-19 musculoskeletal interventions.
New group programs
In addition to the new and expanded Medicare allied health items, the government has also announced a targeted measure focused on aged care homes that experienced COVID-19 outbreaks. A total of 11 PHNs have aged care facilities in their regions that have experienced an outbreak and will be commissioning group allied health services for residents of those facilities, which will be delivered by physiotherapists, occupational therapists and exercise physiologists.
AHPA will be working with individual professions, the PHNs and the Department of Health to support the implementation of this program and to help allied health providers in the relevant regions to connect with their PHN. We’ll continue to provide additional information as it becomes available.
Under the program, those allied health professionals will:
- meet with residential aged care home staff to identify residents for whom the program would be relevant
- undertake one-on-one assessments with those residents to identify their individual needs
- provide a six-month program of twice weekly group sessions for those residents with up to four residents in each group session.
The 11 PHN regions that will be commissioning allied health group programs are:
- Nepean Blue mountains PHN
- Northern Sydney PHN
- South West Sydney PHN
- Hunter New England and Central Coast PHN
- Murray PHN
- North Western Melbourne PHN
- Eastern Melbourne PHN
- South Eastern Melbourne PHN
- Gippsland PHN
- Western Victoria PHN
- Tasmania PHN
AHPA’s response to the funding announcement can be found in our media release.