Amendments have been made to the temporary COVID-19 MBS telehealth/phone items so that normal specialist billing practices apply without any bulk billing requirements.
When the items were first introduced in March there was a requirement that all services provided using the new temporary MBS telehealth items must be bulk billed.
On 6 April 2020, the MBS items 132 and 133 for consultant physician initial and subsequent assessments were added to the list of temporary telehealth enabled COVID-19 MBS items to be performed either by videoconference or telephone.
However the issue of specialist bulk billing restrictions was urgently raised with the Department of Health and Federal health minister by professional groups including the AMA and the Australian Association of Consultant Physicians (AACP).
The AACP said it had had expressed concerns about the impact on consultant physicians of the continuing requirement for all patients aged under 16 years to be bulk billed and the impact of requiring bulk billing of “patients at risk of COVID-19”, especially as there are no incentives for bulk billing available for consultant physicians.
“Following … meetings with the Health Minister’s MBS Adviser, and discussions with the Department of Health, the Minister for Health has confirmed today, 20 April 2020, the removal of the bulk billing requirement relating to patients under 16 years and for patients at risk of COVID-19 – these changes are effective today,” the AACP said.
In a fact sheet the Department of Health stated that the temporary items are for non-admitted patients, and providers “are expected to obtain informed financial consent from patients prior to providing the service; providing details regarding their fees, including any out-of-pocket costs.”
“For specialist services, bulk billing is at the discretion of the provider, so long as informed financial consent is obtained prior to the provision of the service,” it said.
However the bulk billing restrictions still apply to GPs.
Specialists have also been reminded that it is illegal to bulk bill public patients who have been admitted to private hospitals due to COVID arrangements.