Better access to mental health care and the failure of the Medicare principle of universality

Med J Aust. 2015 Mar 2;202(4):190-4. doi: 10.5694/mja14.00330.


Objectives: To examine whether adult use of mental health services subsidised by Medicare varies by measures of socioeconomic and geographic disadvantage in Australia.

Design, setting and participants: A secondary analysis of national Medicare data from 1 July 2007 to 30 June 2011 for all mental health services subsidised by Better Access to Mental Health Care (Better Access) and Medicare - providers included general practitioners, psychiatrists, clinical psychologists and mental health allied health practitioners.

Main outcome measures: Service use rates followed by measurement of inequity using the concentration curve and concentration index.

Results: Increasing remoteness was consistently associated with lower service activity; eg, per 1000 population, the annual rate of use of GP items was 79 in major cities and 25 and 8 in remote and very remote areas, respectively. Apart from GP usage, higher socioeconomic disadvantage in areas was typically associated with lower usage; eg, per 1000 population per year, clinical psychologist consultations were 68, 40 and 23 in the highest, middle and lowest advantaged quintiles, respectively; and non-Better Access psychiatry items were 117, 55 and 45 in the highest, middle and lowest advantaged quintiles, respectively.

Conclusions: Our results highlight important socioeconomic and geographical disparities associated with the use of Better Access and related Medicare services. This can inform Australia's policymakers about these priority gaps and help to stimulate targeted strategies both nationally and regionally that work towards the universal and equitable delivery of mental health care for all Australians.

Publication types

  • Multicenter Study

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Australia
  • Female
  • Health Services Accessibility / organization & administration*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Medicare / standards*
  • Mental Disorders / economics
  • Mental Disorders / therapy*
  • Mental Health Services / economics
  • Mental Health Services / statistics & numerical data*
  • Mental Health*
  • Referral and Consultation*
  • United States