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PM throws $1.1 billion into Medicare, mental health amid coronavirus

PM announces $1.1 billion boost to Medicare. Source: Getty

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has revealed the federal government will inject $1.1 billion into Medicare, mental health, domestic violence and emergency food services - immediately.

The new support measures come as the total number of cases hits 3,640 in Australia, with most states enforcing strict lockdown measures, and urging residents to stay at home. 

“Today is about taking care of our vulnerable Australians, all Australians and, in particular, our GPs and our nurses. It is about support for health and mental health, at a time of most profound and understandable stress,” Health Minister Greg Hunt said today.

The new measures would enable vulnerable Australians experiencing anxiety, depression, loneliness and isolation to access the right support from their homes, Minister Hunt said.

Medicare: $669 million 

Medicare will receive the bulk of the funding, which will be spent expanding Medicare subsidies for telehealth services to allow GPs and health professionals to consult with patients over the phone.

“We are asking Australians to stay home, particularly older Australians, even more so,” Morrison said today.

“And we want to ensure that they can continue to get access to healthcare and health advice and support from GPs, which is why this measure is being put in place.”

The federal government also revealed it would double the bulk-billing incentive and make it available for face-to-face and telehealth consultations.

“Telehealth is vital for mental health and for physical health,” Minister Hunt said today.

“What we are doing now is a radical transformation in the way we deliver our health services. As of tomorrow, we will have universal telehealth available in Australia.”

Mental health services: $74 million

Mental health services will receive $74 million to deal with the strain of the coronavirus. 

Beyond Blue, an Australian mental health charity, will receive $10 million in funding to set up a new, dedicated coronavirus wellbeing helpline, while $30.5 million will go to existing services like Lifeline and Kids Helpline.

Hunt revealed $10 million would be specifically target to older Australians, $3 million would go to support health workers and $7 million would go to mental health service Headspace to provide support for younger Australians.

Domestic and family violence services: $150 million

Counselling services for families at risk of family violence like 1800 Respect and Mensline Australia will receive $150 million.

In announcing the funding, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said, “Google has shown a 75 per cent increase in searches when it comes to concerns about domestic violence in recent days”.

“We need to put more resources into supporting people who will be vulnerable and may be vulnerable...And that will ensure that those services, whether it is MensLine or whether it is the 1800 RESPECT line, and these other types of support and others, will get the funding they need to provide services that are so essential.”

Emergency food services: $200 million

The federal government has pledged $200 million to food and bill relief for families.

Organisations that help households pay bills and buy necessities like food and clothing will receive the bulk of the funding, while the National Debt Helpline and other phone counselling services will receive cash to train new counsellors.

"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.

More to come

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