Many patients (and doctors!) are often confused about the arrangements for allied health services under Medicare and podiatry rebates.
For several years, the federal government has run a program that provides Medicare rebates for allied health services such as podiatry. Though the name has changed over time, the original program was called the “Enhanced Primary Care” program – or ‘EPC’.
The purpose of this program was to provide up to 5 visits per calendar year across a range of allied health disciplines for patients who had a chronic condition or disease – such as diabetes, arthritis etc. , once their GP had drawn up a ‘Care Plan’ coordinating their care.
The program has been sometimes difficult to understand – not just for patients – but also referring GPs and allied health providers. Referrals are valid until the end of the next year they were issued, but new visits could become available from the start of each calendar year. Sometimes it has been very difficult for all involved to work out if a referral was still valid, or how many visits the patient may be entitled to…
The Department of Health and Ageing website does have information available under Allied Health Services under Medicare which goes some way to explaining these sometimes confusing arrangements.
Since its inception, podiatry services under the EPC arrangements have gone on to become amongst the most popular services accessed by Australians with chronic conditions. Here is a link to a paper I published on the uptake of podiatry services under the MBS in the Journal of Foot & Ankle Research in 2009 – Footing the bill: the introduction of Medicare Benefits Schedule rebates for podiatry services in Australia. Since that time, the data has become even more conclusive about the huge demand for podiatry services under the MBS.
With a federal government election imminent it would be welcome news to hear one of the major parties talking about improving and widening access to allied health services – in particular podiatry – under the Medicare system. The present maximum of 5 visits per calendar year across all allied health professionals is woefully inadequate and is a drop in the ocean. By contrast, patients could visit their GP every day for years and this would be considered a covered service. Work that out!