Labor’s Long COVID response fails to support Australians living with mental illness

The Albanese Labor Government today told Australians experiencing mental ill health with long COVID to get support from the Medicare-subsidised psychology sessions under the Better Access Initiative – the very sessions Health Minister Mark Butler slashed from 20 to 10 last year.

The response was to the House of Representatives’ Standing Committee on Health, Aged Care and Sport’s Inquiry into Long COVID and Repeated COVID Infections report, Sick and Tired: Casting a Long Shadow. 

The timing of the release by the Department of Health and Aged Care, on behalf of the Minister, is questionable. Health and Aged Care estimates finished yesterday, it’s the end of a sitting fortnight and the Health Committee was in hearings all day today for the diabetes inquiry. I’m not surprised by this now common ‘nothing to see here’ approach to the release of information by this Labor Government.  

The Health Committee’s report in Recommendation 6, noted: ‘mental health support for those with long COVID must be provided in an affordable, timely and equitable manner, and regular review of mental health issues should be part of GP management noting that the extent of related mental health impacts is still unknown.’  

The Government’s response stated: ‘a number of supports are currently available to those impacted by COVID-19. These include Medicare-subsidised psychological services through the MBS Better Access Initiative ... [and] a range of online and digital supports.’ 

It is extraordinary the Government is recommending people access something they have cut in half. Twelve months on from when the cuts came into effect on the 1 January 2023, it is being reported that less people have been accessing psychology sessions, whilst mental ill health continues to increase in Australia.

In the Labor Government’s own evaluation of Better Access, recommendation 12 said, ‘The additional 10 sessions should continue to be made available and should be targeted towards those with complex mental health needs.

The cuts to the sessions has been a move that dismayed the medical community and was criticised by patients and peak mental health bodies alike.  The Coalition is committed to returning the Medicare subsidised psychology sessions back to 20, permanently.

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