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An issue of access

Study shows socioeconomically disadvantaged women are less likely to use Medicare Access Initiative for mental health.

Women who are socioeconomically disadvantaged are less likely to access Medicare Benefits Schedule items for recently introduced mental health services, despite their mental condition, according to a new study. in the Medical Journal of Australia.

Researchers from the Research Centre for Gender, Health and Ageing at the University of Newcastle said that, despite a reported rapid uptake of mental health items, their use by women with mental health needs was proportionately low.

Of the women participating in the long-term survey, a large proportion of those reporting a history of mental health problems (88 to 99 per cent) had made no mental health item claims, suggesting that issues of access were not being addressed as intended.

Lead researcher Professor Julie Byles said that women experiencing socioeconomic disadvantage were even less likely to access the service.

“If women who have difficulty managing on their available income and who have lower educational levels are less able to make use of mental health services despite their mental health needs, the scheme does not necessarily address gaps in service provision as intended,” Byles said.

The Better Access Initiative provides Medicare rebates for up to 12 individual mental health services a year, including consultations with psychologists, social workers and occupational therapists. Rebates are available to patients who have been referred by a psychiatrist, paediatrician or general practitioner.

Few women who did use the service reported that they had previously seen a counsellor, psychologist or social worker – indicating that new items reached women who were not previously accessing mental health care.

The Initiative was associated with higher costs to individuals as well as to government.

The study was published in the Medical Journal of Australia.

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