The Australian government recently announced that it is extending the provision of telehealth services until end-2021. The service, which started on March 13 last year, was supposed to end on June 30.

To support this, the federal government allotted AU$114 million (approximately $88 million) more funds under the 2021-22 Budget to the programme.

WHY IT MATTERS

According to Minister for Health and Aged Care Greg Hunt, the extension of the Medicare-funded telehealth services will ensure that citizens can continue to see their doctors, renew scripts and seek mental support from the safety of their homes.

"This allows vulnerable Australians to feel protected and supported during these unprecedented times," the official said.

The Medicare Benefits Schedule (MBS) telehealth items have been made available to the healthcare sector to reduce the risk of community transmission of coronavirus disease and provide protection for both patients and providers.

The services are only provided to out-of-hospital patients, who can access care from general practitioners, medical practitioners, specialists, consultant physicians, nurse practitioners, participating midwives, allied health providers and dental practitioners.

THE LARGER TREND

In the past twelve months, more than 56 million COVID-19 MBS services were delivered to 13.6 million patients with AU$2.9 billion (approximately $2.2 billion) in Medicare benefits paid. Over 83,540 providers have used telehealth services.

Minister Hunt in November announced that telehealth will be a permanent addition to Medicare, the country's universal health insurance system. "One thing that has come from COVID[-19] is the fact that we have skipped a decade and jumped from 2030 to 2020 for the delivery of telehealth for all Australians," he said.

The federal government is still working with various agencies to come up with a permanent post-pandemic telehealth programme in part of the broader primary care reforms to modernise medicare.

ON THE RECORD

"It is critical that Australians continue to look after their health and stay engaged with your primary care providers," Hunt said.

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