Mental health support must be on the agenda

*This speech was delivered in the Senate on 27th September 2022. It was also published as an opinion piece in The Advocate on 17th October 2022.

We tell people to get mental health support when they’re not feeling great. We say it’s okay not to be okay. Go and talk to someone about what’s on your mind.

So why are we making it so hard for people to get help?

Medicare subsidy item 288 ended on January 1st this year. This item was an extra loading for psychiatrists delivering telehealth appointments to people in rural and regional areas. Without it, mental health providers were left with two options: absorb the cost into their business, or pass it on to their clients.

Around 8000 Tasmanians accessed psychologist appointments under 288 last financial year. Most of these people can’t afford to pay the full fee of seeing a psychologist without the subsidy.

A provider told me that 90% of their patients stopped seeing their psychiatrists when this was cut.

The same provider told me that patients were in tears when they found out. Their patients are homeless, long-term unemployed, single parents and pensioners. All people who desperately need these services.

Tasmanians have struggled without this subsidy. A mother told me her teenage daughter had been seeing the psychiatrist via telehealth. Without the subsidy, she’d be $100 out of pocket. She couldn’t afford that. This woman felt like she was failing her daughter because she couldn’t pay for the help she needed.

I bet that mother went without to make sure her daughter was able to have those appointments. There’s nothing worse as a parent than not being able to give your child the help they need.

Parents shouldn’t have to make the choice. 

During the election, Labor said they would bring back item 288. I was really pleased to hear that, because I know how hard it has been for people without it.

But since the election, we’ve heard crickets. There haven't been any updates. No splashy announcements. Nothing that says when this medicare subsidy will come back into play for the people who desperately need it.

I’m hoping that October’s budget will bring back item 288. I know spending is being kept to a minimum. 

But people shouldn’t be punished for living in a rural and regional area. Governments shouldn’t be saying hey, because you don’t live in a city, Medicare won’t help you. 

We can’t put a price on people’s mental health.