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Government cancels Medicare rebates for telehealth consultations for most nicotine scripts

Posted on July 13, 2020


MOST VAPERS will no longer be able to get Medicare rebates for telehealth consultations for nicotine prescriptions due to new restrictions from 20 July 2020.

Most GPs are not willing to write nicotine prescriptions and vapers have been looking elsewhere. A small number of GPs has been providing nicotine prescriptions for vapers by telehealth (phone or video consultations).

In Australia, it is a criminal offence to possess or use nicotine for vaping unless you have a prescription from a doctor. Penalties range up to $45,000 for each offence and up to 2 years jail in some states.

From 20 July 2020, Medicare rebates for telehealth will only be available for services from your own GP with whom you have been an active patient within the past 12 months. Requests for a prescription from a remote GP by telehealth will require you to pay a personal fee.

Of course, any cost for a consultation is still only a tiny fraction of the money saved by switching from smoking to vaping. However, it will still be a barrier for many low-income people who may not be able to pay a fee.

Why are telehealth rebates stopping?

The government’s decision is based on a genuine concern that allowing patients to consult other GPs freely will ‘fragment’ medical care. You will get the best medical care if you see the one doctor for all your health needs. Your doctor knows you, your health details, allergies and medication and is best positioned to help you make medical decisions.

There are also concerns that certain commercial operators may rort the telehealth rebates, for example services services set up by some pharmacy chains.

However, the blanket ban on telehealth rebates does not allow for situations where your own GP is unable or unwilling to provide a service, such as a nicotine prescription

What this means for vapers

ATHRA recommends that vapers follow the current laws and get a nicotine prescription if they are using nicotine. There are two legal pathways

  • Ask your GP about vaping and if a prescription is appropriate for you
  • If your GP is unable to help, there are doctors available by telehealth who can provide this service. A modest private fee is payable for the consultation

However, it is likely that most vapers will continue to import illegally nicotine without a prescription or will purchase it on the black market. Unfortunately the laws will force many law-abiding citizens to break the law in many cases.

From 1 January 2021, Health Minister Greg Hunt has signalled that it will be illegal to import your own nicotine from overseas (even with a prescription) and a penalty of $220,000 will apply. A complicated and onerous system is proposed for the new year which will involve a complex prescription process and third parties importing nicotine, but few details are available.

This is a disaster for public health. Many vapers will go back to smoking and others will source nicotine on the black market, which is certain to thrive

If you are concerned about this, please visit your local Federal MP and tell him or her your story about vaping. Any decision to change this law will be make by Parliament and the voices of vapers need to be heard

You can find the details of your federal MP on the Legalise Vaping website. If you can’t visit, please write a letter.

Other things you can do

Posted by Colin Mendelsohn, colin@athra.org.au


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7 Replies to “Government cancels Medicare rebates for telehealth consultations for most nicotine scripts”

Polly Green

I am on a Disability support pension and have discussed with my Dr about getting all my relevant medical history including history on nicotine patches etc to quit smoking etc. We were going to put everything together so I could arrange a appointment with a Dr via telephone or Skype to obtain a prescription for nicotine as vaping is the only proven record for me for quitting smoking. I have smoked for 40 years and can't go back for many reasons one being COPD with only 65% lung capacity at 55 years old. Doesn't look like this is going to happen now. No Dr's in my area do it and I am unable to drive the 2 hour or 9 hour round trip to the Dr's in SA that do. Another set back for those trying to quit.

Polly Green

I also have allergies to the ingredients in the sprays, lozenges and gums for trying to quit smoking so can't use them either.

Sonja

Thank you Colin, I hope that I"ll be able to eventually book in I don't mind paying a modest fee I'll just have to budget for it like I do for everything else. This is another huge blow and aimed directly at the most vulnerable.

Joy

Surely this is a discrimination issue? It is blatant discrimination. They are certainly grasping at straws now and this must be stopped.
Those who are on the Cashless Card will not be able to use this either. I'm not, but do realise their struggle also.
How do we get our doctors to write scripts even when they don't have an issue with vaping?
How do we get local supply for that script if we do get it?
I have only been with my current Dr for 8 years. He has no idea of my previous journey to quit even before Big Pharma got involved more than 30 years ago when I started trying.

Colin

Hi Joy, if you are lucky enough to have a GP who is willing to write you a nicotine prescriptions, ATHRA can help. We have a special guide for GPs on vaping and how to write a prescription. Email us with details, colin@athra.org.au

Colleen Nolan

Didn’t the government release My Health Record so that any doctor could access you medical records with your permission.

Colin

Hi Colleen, Theoretically your doctor can access your medical record, but there will be no Medicare rebate for telehealth unless it is with your own GP. You can still have the service, however it needs to be paid privately.

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