Coronavirus information for health professionals

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

New MBS attendance and telehealth items

If you provide phone and video services to patients, use the temporary MBS items.

You can use these 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
  • focussed psychological strategies
  • pregnancy support counselling
  • antenatal and postnatal attendances.

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

  • live in an area under stage 3 coronavirus restrictions
  • visited your practice in the last 12 months
  • are experiencing homelessness
  • are under 12 months of age.

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 the new items with existing bulk bill incentive items.

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 for these items is a temporary policy measure. This will cease on 31 March 2021.

Additional MBS mental health items

Patients can access up to 10 additional mental health treatment sessions covered by Medicare. 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 the new items on the MBS Online website.

Telehealth services will finish on 31 March 2021 and face to face services will finish on 30 June 2022.

New MBS pathology items

If you perform pathology tests for COVID-19, use the new MBS pathology items.

From 1 April 2020 you can use item 69479 or 69480 for tests you perform for COVID-19. You must bulk bill these items.

From 29 July 2020 you can use item 69501 for COVID-19 tests on asymptomatic workers in selected industries.

These items will be available until 31 March 2021.

If you performed tests between 13 and 31 March 2020, you can increase your Medicare benefits by claiming item 69485 and either:

  • item 69476
  • item 69477.

You don’t need to request an adjustment for claims you’ve already made.

Extension for 3GA placements and 19AB exemptions

You’ll get a 6 month extension for 3GA placements and 19AB exemptions that expired from 1 May 2020 until 31 October 2020.

Placements and exemptions expiring from 1 November 2020 will not be automatically extended. The usual program rules will apply from 1 November 2020 for you to meet your sections 19AA and 19AB conditions.

If you require an extension for your 19AB exemption:

If you require an extension for your 3GA placement, submit your application through your approved training or workforce program. You can read more about these on the Department of Health website.

Your extension starts from the expiry date of your program. We can’t backdate extensions so make sure you submit everything before they expire. We’ll write to you with your new conditions and expiry date.

Digital medical certificates

Using HPOS, you can lodge a Medical Certificate form (SU683) directly to your patient’s Centrelink record. This means your patient doesn’t need to visit a service centre in person.

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 health and aged care professionals 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 1 month supply of their PBS medicine without a prescription.

This arrangement will be in place until 31 March 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 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.

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 under new interim arrangements. 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 cannot provide a copy to the patient themselves.

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 31 March 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 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

The Department of Health and Australian Digital Health Agency are working to fast track the delivery of electronic prescriptions.

Electronic prescribing will allow prescribers, patients and pharmacists to use an electronic Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) prescription. Paper prescriptions will still be available.

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

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

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 12 weeks. The Department of Health has temporarily extended the period to support the COVID-19 response.

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 12 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, a 3GA placement or 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 has created a sub-register to allow retired and non-practising health professionals to practice during coronavirus (COVID-19). The register will be available for 12 months from 6 April 2020.

If you want to opt out or have questions about your status on the sub-register, visit the Ahpra website.

If you’re on the sub-register, we’ll automatically reinstate your Medicare access. You must have had Medicare access at the time of your retirement or movement to non-practicing status.

You can use your existing open Medicare provider number to access Medicare benefits.

If you’re eligible for locum tenens, you can also use the extended locum tenens period. It allows you to use your existing provider numbers at different locations for up to 12 weeks.

You can manage your Medicare provider numbers using Health Professional Online Services (HPOS). You need 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.

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

Page last updated: 24 November 2020