Get Informed & Be Heard.
As some will know from November 2011 funding for mental health changed radically in Australia. Unfortunately, this change was for the worse in my opinion. The is certainly so for the eating disorders sector.
Before November 1st, 2011, patients were eligible for 12 sessions of therapy which would be subsidised under Medicare. For patients with “special circumstances” another 6 sessions could be accessed. Patients with eating disorders were usually granted the “special circumstances” sessions and so, in effect received 18 sessions subsidised by the government. Sessions were not fully covered and patients still paid around $80 - $100 per session out of pocket. After 18 sessions all fees for treatment became out of pocket as psychological therapy is poorly covered by private health funds (although massages and running shoes are).
Public disquiet with this decision led to a Senate enquiry. The chair of that committee, Senator Penny Wright of the Greens, prepared a majority report calling for the changes to be held off until a suitable replacement for funding can be found. However, this report was not tabled until after November 2011 and the changes have already taken place. I understand that Senator Wright has tabled a private members bill to reverse the changes and that this will be debated in February 2012.
In my role with the Australia and New Zealand Academy for Eating Disorders, I had the opportunity to meet with the Minister for Mental Health Mark Butler on two occasions. On both occasions it was at the invitation of The Butterfly Foundation, Australia’s leading eating disorder patient advocate group. I do believe that Minister Butler was unaware of the “unintended consequences” of the decision on patients with eating disorders.
In meeting with the Minister it is clear to me that a combined consumer/practitioner voice is the most important way to effect political change. The role of consumers (which is not a great term but it is the one politicians have become accustomed to) is of utmost importance.
Here are some things you could do:
- Get informed.
A sad reflection of the media and my own professional bodies is that the majority of information available comes through activist groups on social media outlets. Such sources are biased in a direction of reverse the cuts, but I’m not pretending to be balanced in this argument. Twitter and Facebook has led to a few regime changes recently so social media is not a bad thing. The best fb page i have come across is
The also have a website at http://www.betteraccess.net/
The Australian Psychological Society also has some information of use in their “news” section at: http://www.psychology.org.au/
2. Be Heard
You can join social media campaigns by joining http://www.facebook.com/groups/GetBOMHC/
You can raise the issue on Twitter if you have an account. Some members are engaging in a 30 tweets to Minister Butler in 30 days campaign.
You can sign an online petition at http://www.gopetition.com/petitions/better-access-to-psychologists.html
You can vote on http://suggest.getup.org.au/forums/60819-campaign-ideas/suggestions/1833821-better-access-to-psychologists to raise the profile of this issue.
Most importantly you can write to the politicians. You should write two letters. The first should be to your local member, asking them to raise the issue with Minister Butler. The second is to Minister Butler himself.
http://www.betteraccess.net/index.php/take-action/stop gives you lists of your local members and Minister Butlers address.
http://www.psyber.net.au/index.php/media/57-articles/1623-tell-the-minister has some sample letters that you might want to copy points from.
The letters don’t need to be long. They DO need to be hand written. My information from the Department of Health and Aging tells me that handwritten letters are far more effective in getting a politicians ear that computer generated ones.
I’m posting this because of the importance of this issue. The government has unintentionally raised an unacceptable barrier to effective treatment. I’ll write more on the issue in later blogs with information specific to eating disorders. We have until February to take some effective action so we need to move now.
Please post any feedback or comments either on the Facebook page or on the website.