March 28, 2020 22:31:15
Mental health, domestic violence, Medicare and emergency food services will receive a $1.1 billion injection on Sunday, as the Federal Government prepares for the widespread impact of the coronavirus pandemic.
The bulk of the package will go to expanding Medicare subsidies for telehealth servicesMoney will also be committed to mental health services and counselling services for families caught up in, or at risk of, domestic violenceThe National Cabinet will meet again on Sunday to discuss the country’s next moves
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the new support measures would be rolled out immediately to deal with broader effects of the health and economic crisis that COVID-19 presents.
“As we battle coronavirus on both the health and economic fronts with significant support packages in place and more to come, I am very aware many Australians are understandably anxious, stressed and fearful about the impacts of coronavirus and what it brings,” Mr Morrison said in a statement.
The Federal Government said mental health and domestic violence services were already experiencing an increase in demand, as the nation dealt with thousands of job losses and collapsing businesses, rising numbers of coronavirus infections, and strict social restrictions aimed at curbing the spread of the deadly virus.
Medicare to receive biggest boost
The bulk of the $1.1 billion in funding — $669 million — will go towards expanding Medicare subsidies for telehealth services, which allow GPs and other health professionals to consult with patients over video conferencing rather than face to face.
The Government will double the bulk billing incentive for GPs to provide telehealth services, and the range of services that can be subsidised will be expanded to include mental health treatment, chronic disease management, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health assessments, and after hours consultations.
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GPs will also be incentivised to remain open to provide face to face services for those patients that need it.
The measures are expected to remain in place until the end of September, when the services will be reviewed.
Mental health services swamped
A total of $74 million is being allocated specifically for mental health services which are coming under strain during the coronavirus pandemic.
Mental health organisation Beyond Blue will provide a dedicated coronavirus well-being helpline, with $10 million in funding — half of which will be provided by private health insurer Medibank Private.
Another $14 million will go to existing mental health services, including Lifeline and Kids Helpline.
Frontline health workers, under significant pressure as emergency and intensive care wards fill with coronavirus patients, will also have access to increased mental health support, and specific programs will be developed to assist Indigenous communities.
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Family violence a growing problem
Counselling services for families caught up in, or at risk of, family violence — such as 1800 Respect and Mensline Australia — will share $150 million.
In announcing the extra cash, the Government said search engines such as Google were “seeing the highest magnitude of searches for domestic violence help that they have seen in the past five years with an increase of 75 per cent and some services are already reporting an increase in demand”.
A new national campaign to promote services available to Australians affected by family violence during the COVID-19 outbreak will also be funded.
Food and bill relief coming
Sunday’s funding commitment by the Prime Minister includes $200 million for charities that provide emergency relief for households.
It will go to services and organisations that help households pay bills and buy food, clothing and petrol.
Money will also go to the National Debt Helpline and Financial Counselling Australia to train new financial counsellors, potentially providing hundreds of new jobs.
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“Given the unprecedented nature of the situation we are facing, I am acutely aware that emergency relief services will likely be more heavily relied upon in coming months than we have seen in our lifetimes,” Family Services Minister Anne Ruston said in a statement.
National Cabinet to meet
The health announcement comes ahead of another meeting of the National Cabinet, made up of the Prime Minister and state and territory leaders, on Sunday.
They will assess whether current restrictions put in place to control the spread of coronavirus are effective, and what protections can be put in place to ensure tenants do not find themselves evicted during the crisis.
Mr Morrison is also due to announce a third round of economic assistance in coming days, focusing on helping businesses go into “hibernation” so they can begin operating again once the virus outbreak subsides.
Finance Minister Mathias Cormann on Friday suggested more income support could form part of the package.
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