What is a Mental Health Care Plan?
A Mental Health Care Plan (MHCP) is a plan you create with a General Practitioner (GP) that provides access to reduced cost sessions with a mental health professional such as a psychologist. You might also hear it called a Mental Health Treatment Plan, or just a Mental Health Plan.
If you have a valid Medicare card and are struggling with your mental health, you might be eligible for a MHCP.
How do I get a Mental Health Care Plan?
The first step to getting a MHCP is to book in to see your GP. When you make the appointment, make sure to clarify that the appointment is for a MHCP. Online booking systems often have the option to book a mental health or long/double appointment. Making a special booking will ensure the doctor has set aside enough time to chat about what's been going on and create a mental health plan.
In the appointment, your GP will conduct an assessment of your mental health and decide whether they think you would benefit from professional support. In order to be eligible for a MHCP, your GP will have to give you an initial diagnosis or specify that you are experiencing the symptoms of a specific mental health condition. Seeing a “diagnosis” written down might feel a bit scary or overwhelming - but remember, in reality these are just words on paper and they aren't fixed! They're also completely confidential and will only get seen by the professional you are being referred to.
You and your GP will develop your MHCP together. The plan will identify the support services you need access to (e.g. psychological therapy), outline your goals (e.g. improve mood, reduce stress), and describe some strategies you will put in place to work towards them (e.g. see a psychologist, medication, check-ins with your GP).
Your GP will also write a referral to a psychologist. This means you have to choose a specific psychologist, however, it’s totally ok to see someone different or change your mind - Medicare allows psychologists to accept referrals addressed to a different psychologist.
You might want to do some research on options for a psychologist before you go to see your GP - if you have someone specific in mind you can tell your GP you'd like a referral for that psychologist. Alternatively, your GP might already know some good psychologists that they can suggest.
Next the GP will send the referral to the psychologist. Then it's usually up to you to call the psychology practice and book in for your first appointment!
Using your MHCP.
With a MHCP, Medicare provides you with rebates to help with the cost of seeing a psychologist. Since the COVID-19 outbreak, the number of psychology sessions per calendar year that Medicare will subsidise has been increased from 10 to 20. This number will be reviewed at the end of December 2022.
You aren’t eligible for all 20 rebates immediately - initially, you are eligible for 6, and have to return to your GP for a progress review in order to be eligible for the next 4.
To make sure you can keep seeing your psychologist after 6 sessions, it’s a good idea to organise your GP review for after your 5th session - that way you won’t find yourself in a situation where you have to take a break in treatment!
Finally, after you have seen your psychologist 10 times, your GP can re-refer you for the additional 10 sessions.
Does my MHCP expire?
A MHCP is valid for one year from the date of referral. If, at the end of the calendar year (i.e. January - December), you haven’t used all your sessions but still have a valid MHCP - you can keep receiving rebates. The number you are eligible for will reset at the start of the next calendar year.
Once you have exhausted all your Medicare rebates, you can still continue to see your psychologist - but you will have to pay the full cost of the sessions. If you have private health insurance you might be eligible for further rebates through your health fund.
What about other types of therapy?
A MHCP also allows you to claim rebates on up to 10 group therapy sessions. Participation in group therapy should be complementary to your individual therapy, and doesn’t affect the number of rebates you can claim with your psychologist.