Coronavirus information for health professionals

Information about changes for health professionals during the coronavirus (COVID-19) response.

Temporary MBS telehealth and telephone items

There are temporary MBS items if you provide phone and video services to patients during the coronavirus (COVID-19) response.

You can use the temporary MBS items for the following services:

  • general attendances
  • health assessments
  • chronic disease management and team care arrangements
  • early interventions for children with autism, pervasive developmental disorder or disability
  • mental health treatment and planning
  • eating disorder treatment and management
  • focused psychological strategies
  • pregnancy support counselling
  • antenatal and postnatal attendances.

If you’re a GP, you can only use the temporary items for patients who either:

  • visited your practice in the last 12 months
  • live in an area under stage 3 coronavirus restrictions
  • are experiencing homelessness
  • are under 12 months of age
  • are treated at an Aboriginal Medical Service or an Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Service.

GPs must bulk bill telehealth or phone services for:

  • concessional or vulnerable patients
  • children under 16.

Specialists, consultant physicians and allied health services can bulk bill patients at their discretion.

You can claim these temporary items with existing bulk bill incentive items.

These items are available until 30 June 2021.

Attendance items for coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccines

New COVID-19 Vaccine Assessment Service items have been added to the MBS.

These items are for GPs and suitably qualified health professionals to assess a patient’s suitability to get a COVID-19 vaccine.

The COVID-19 vaccine suitability assessment service is free to patients and the MBS items must be bulk billed. Patients are expected to have a face-to-face assessment before they get the first and second doses of the vaccine.

The service can be billed to Medicare when:

  • your patient is assessed and receives the vaccine
  • your patient has been assessed but doesn’t receive the vaccine for clinical reasons
  • your patient has been assessed but doesn’t consent to the vaccine.

To provide a COVID-19 vaccine suitability assessment, the vaccine must be available immediately after the assessment in the same location. The supervising GP must be present at the location where the service is being undertaken.

Co-claiming

The vaccine attendance items can’t be co-claimed with:

  • bulk-billing incentive items (10990, 10991, 10992)
  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health practitioner immunisation item (10988).

COVID-19 vaccine suitability assessment items may be co-claimed with normal attendance items, for example, 23 where the patient attends for an unrelated condition and is eligible for the vaccine. The relevant incentive item is still payable for the other attendance.

Patients shouldn’t require more than one vaccine suitability assessment on the same day. However, if there are exceptional circumstances another service can be provided on the same day. These exceptional circumstances must be recorded in the patient’s notes.

You can find more information about the new MBS items on the Department of Health’s website.

Additional MBS mental health items

Patients can access up to 10 additional mental health treatment sessions during the coronavirus (COVID-19) response. Medicare covers these sessions.

Your patient is eligible for the sessions if all of the following apply:

  • they have a current mental health treatment plan
  • they’ve had a review with their GP
  • they’ve used all of their previous Medicare covered sessions.

Make sure you use the new MBS items when providing extra sessions for your patients. You can find out more about the MBS additional mental health items on the Department of Health website.

These items are available until 30 June 2022. Telehealth services will finish on 30 June 2021.

Support for patients in residential aged care

Patients in residential aged cared facilities can access MBS mental health and multidisciplinary care items during the coronavirus (COVID-19) response.

The items apply to residents who would benefit from referral to allied health services under the following treatment, management or care plans:

  • Multidisciplinary Care Plans
  • GP Management Plans
  • Shared Care Plans
  • Team Care Plans
  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Assessments
  • Mental Health Treatment Plans.

If you travel to a residential aged care facility to provide these services, you can also claim a flag fall service item. You can only claim the flag fall service item for your first appointment at each facility.

Find out more about the MBS items for aged care residents by referring to these Department of Health fact sheets:

These items finish on 30 June 2022. Telehealth services finish on 30 June 2021.

MBS pathology items for coronavirus (COVID-19)

There are certain MBS pathology items to use if you perform pathology tests for COVID-19.

Use items 69479 or 69480 if you perform COVID-19 pathology testing. You must bulk bill these items.

Use item 69501 to claim for testing on asymptomatic workers in selected industries.

These items will be available until 31 December 2021.

You can find out more about the MBS pathology items on the Department of Health website.

Assignment of benefit requirements

You need your patient’s agreement to bulk bill the items, before we can pay you the Medicare benefit.

You can get their agreement either:

  • in writing
  • by email
  • verbally during the consultation.

If you get verbal agreement from your patient, you must write:

  • ‘unable to sign’ in the Patient signature field
  • why the patient is unable to sign in the Provider field, for example COVID-19.

You must keep a record of the agreement.

Getting verbal consent is a temporary policy measure. This will finish on 30 June 2021.

Extension for 3GA placements and 19AB exemptions

Automatic extensions are no longer applied to 3GA placements and 19AB exemptions. This automatic extension arrangement only applied to placements and exemptions that expired between 1 May 2020 and 31 October 2020.

The usual program rules now apply for you to meet sections 19AA and 19AB conditions.

If you require an extension for your 19AB exemption:

If you require an extension for your 3GA placement:

You can read more about these on the Department of Health website.

We can’t backdate 3GA placements and 19AB exemption extensions so make sure you submit everything well before they expire. We’ll write to you with your new conditions and expiry date.

Digital medical certificates

You can use HPOS to lodge digital medical certificates for your patients during the coronavirus (COVID-19) response.

This means your patient doesn’t need to visit a service centre in person.

You can submit a Medical Certificate form directly to your patient’s Centrelink record.

Your patient can also use their Centrelink online account or Express Plus Centrelink app to upload their medical documents.

Read more Coronavirus (COVID-19) advice for the health and disability sector on the Department of Health website.

Continued dispensing of PBS medicine during coronavirus (COVID-19)

Under continued dispensing arrangements, you can give patients up to a one month supply of their PBS medicine without a prescription.

This arrangement will be in place until 31 December 2021.

It applies to most PBS/RPBS medicines supplied through community pharmacies including medicines used for:

  • asthma
  • lung disease
  • diabetes
  • heart disease
  • mental illness.

It means patients who have ongoing medical needs can access their usual medicines at PBS prices.

You can only dispense a medicine if it hasn’t been dispensed under the arrangement in the last 12 months. You must only dispense medicines if it meets the Pharmaceutical Society of Australia’s continued dispensing guidelines.

Make sure you're satisfied both of these apply before you dispense. The patient’s:

  • medicinal need is urgent
  • previously been prescribed the medicine.

It’s your responsibility to make sure you’re following the necessary legislation before supplying under continued dispensing. This includes your relevant state and territory legislation. You can find out more about the legislation on the Australian Government website.

Read more about continued dispensing on the PBS website.

Temporary arrangements to help patients receive medicines through telehealth

You can dispense medicines using a copy of a prescription sent by email, text or fax during the coronavirus (COVID-19) response.

This will help patients get their medicines while staying at home.

Prescribers can provide a digital copy of a legal paper prescription directly to the pharmacy. They can’t provide a copy directly to the patient.

You can then dispense the required medicines using the digital copy, and deliver or post them to the patient. Patients don’t need to sign the prescription.

This arrangement will be in place until 30 September 2021.

The arrangement applies to all PBS items, except Schedule 8 and 4(D) medicines. However, you’ll need to check if they’re permitted under the relevant corresponding state or territory arrangements.

Make sure you follow the Australian Government legislation when supplying under the interim arrangements. This includes the relevant state and territory legislation.

Read more about interim prescribing and dispensing arrangements on the Department of Health website.

Fast tracking electronic prescribing

Electronic prescribing allows prescribers, patients and pharmacists to use an electronic Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme prescription. Paper prescriptions are still available.

You don’t need to do anything now. Your software developer (vendor) will contact you when an update to your software is available.

Software vendors are working to update software to allow prescribers and pharmacists to use electronic prescribing.

Read more about Electronic Prescribing on the Department of Health website.

Read more about Electronic Prescriptions on the Australian Digital Health Agency website.

Temporary extension of the locum tenens period

The locum tenens period for health professionals is now the standard 2 week period.

This means you can provide Medicare services from a new location, using your existing provider number if both the following apply:

  • you’re operating from the new location for less than 2 weeks
  • you’ll return to your usual location after this time.

This arrangement isn’t available for restricted health professionals. This includes doctors who:

  • need a section 19AB exemption
  • need a 3GA placement
  • are participants of the OMPs program.

Restricted health professionals still need to apply for an additional provider number to get Medicare benefits from a new location.

Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (Ahpra) sub register

Ahpra created a COVID-19 pandemic sub-register to allow retired and non-practising health professionals to practice during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

The sub-register closes:

  • on 5 April 2021 for medical practitioners, nurses, midwives and pharmacists
  • on 19 April 2021 for diagnostic radiographers, physiotherapists and psychologists, and
  • on 30 June 2021 for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health practitioners.

Your name will be removed from the sub-register from 6 April 2021 if you were previously removed from the Register of Fellows or Vocational Register and were reinstated due to your name appearing on the sub-register.

Your name will be removed from the Fellows list, Vocational Register and pandemic sub-register from 6 April 2021 if the RACGP advised Services Australia you were CPD non-compliant for the 2017-19 triennium and your name was not removed from the Register of Fellows or Vocational Register due to holding sub-register status.

Read more about Ahpra’s sub register on their website.

Health Professional Online Service

You can manage your Medicare provider numbers using Health Professional Online Services (HPOS). You need a Provider Digital Access (PRODA) account to access HPOS. If you don’t have one, register for a PRODA account and link your HPOS service.

You can also use HPOS to:

  • update your bank details
  • view the status of your Medicare provider numbers.

Page last updated: 29 March 2021