28 July 2020
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
An open letter signed by 247 experts from Australia’s sexual and reproductive health sector has warned the Federal Government that last Monday’s changes to COVID-related Medicare Item Numbers may already be having a devastating impact on sexual and reproductive health during the pandemic.
Access to time-critical services including medical termination of pregnancy, STI testing, blood-borne virus (BBV) consultations and pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) and post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) for HIV prevention has just become more difficult due to a change to Medicare.
Under the change, which came into effect last Monday with just over a week’s notice, patients can only access telehealth services under Medicare if they are a regular patient of a GP or practice and have been an active patient within the last 12 months.
Last week, representatives from Australia’s sexual and reproductive health sector met with Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt’s office and the Department of Health to request exemptions to the changes in order to ensure continued access to sexual and reproductive health services for vulnerable communities.
Marie Stopes Australia and ASHM have allayed concerns that exemptions will allow new telehealth providers to siphon patients from existing GP practices by arguing that exemptions should only be made for accredited prescribers of specific sexual and reproductive health services: MS 2-Step, HIV s100 prescribers, HBV (hepatitis B) s100 prescribers and Fellows of the Chapter of Sexual Health Medicine.
Without exemptions, the 12-month rule will hinder sexual and reproductive healthcare access in Australia because some patients’ regular GPs:
- Work in clinics that do not always offer specialist sexual and reproductive health services
- Have not completed the additional training required to provide specific sexual and reproductive health services
- Conscientiously object to providing certain sexual and reproductive health services
- Experience a range of challenges in providing accessible services due to a range of access, equity and agency issues
As well as speaking directly with the Minister Hunt’s office, Marie Stopes Australia and ASHM have launched an open letter calling for the exemptions that has now been signed by 247 individuals and organisations: https://resources.mariestopes.org.au/OpenLetter.pdf
QUOTES FROM MARIE STOPES AUSTRALIA, Jamal Hakim, Managing Director:
“It makes sense. Exempting time-critical services for registered prescribers of specific sexual and reproductive health services can and should be done quickly.”
“These exemptions will stay true to the concept
of continuity of care that originally spurred the roll-backs.”
“COVID-19 is a marathon, not a sprint, so accessible, responsible and safe telehealth provision supported by our Medicare system is important for the health of women and pregnant people seeking medical abortion services.”
QUOTES FROM ASHM, Alexis Apostolellis, Chief Executive Officer:
“We need to act now—we don’t know what impact these changes are already having on access to HIV, viral hepatitis and sexual health services.”
“Exemptions for accredited prescribers will ensure access to these vital sexual and reproductive health services, without taking patients away from existing GP practices.”
“These exemptions will apply to just a small group of specialist providers, but one that fills a crucial gap when a patient’s regular GP is not appropriate to provide these services.”
Marie Stopes Australia is a national not for profit provider of sexual and reproductive health services including permanent and long-acting reversible contraception and abortion care. For more information on our clinic network visit mariestopes.org.au
ASHM is a peak organisation of health professionals in Australia and New Zealand who work in HIV, viral hepatitis, other BBVs and sexually transmissible infections. For more information on ASHM’s work, including policy engagement, education and resources, visit ashm.org.au
Benjamin Riley, Media and Public Affairs Manager, ASHM, 0401 267 024