Comparison of the out-of-pocket costs of Medicare-funded telepsychiatry and face-to-face consultations: A descriptive study

Luke S.C. Woon*, Stephen Allison, Tarun Bastiampillai, Steve Kisely, Paul Maguire, William Pring, Rebecca Reay, Jeffrey C.L. Looi

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    Abstract

    Objective: Telepsychiatry items in the Australian Medicare Benefits Schedule (MBS) were expanded following the COVID-19 pandemic. However, their out-of-pocket costs have not been examined. We describe and compare patient out-of-pocket payments for face-to-face and telepsychiatry (videoconferencing and telephone) MBS items for outpatient psychiatric services to understand the differential out-of-pocket cost burden for patients across these modalities. Methods: out-of-pocket cost information was obtained from the Medical Costs Finder website, which extracted data from Services Australia’s Medicare claims data in 2021–2022. Cost information for corresponding face-to-face, video, and telephone MBS items for outpatient psychiatric services was compared, including (1) Median specialist fees; (2) Median out-of-pocket payments; (3) Medicare reimbursement amounts; and (4) Proportions of patients subject to out-of-pocket fees. Results: Medicare reimbursements are identical for all comparable face-to-face and telepsychiatry items. Specialist fees for comparable items varied across face-to-face to telehealth options, with resulting differences in out-of-pocket costs. For video items, higher proportions of patients were not bulk-billed, with greater out-of-pocket costs than face-to-face items. However, the opposite was true for telephone items compared with face-to-face items. Conclusions: Initial cost analyses of MBS telepsychiatry items indicate that telephone consultations incur the lowest out-of-pocket costs, followed by face-to-face and video consultations.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)204-209
    Number of pages6
    JournalAustralasian Psychiatry
    Volume32
    Issue number3
    DOIs
    Publication statusPublished - 4 Mar 2024

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