Therapy can have a reputation as being only for those who can afford it. But in Australia, accessing therapy isn’t only for the elite. With Medicare, you may even be eligible for free therapy. Get the help you need, without worrying about the financial strain.
How do I know if I’m eligible for free therapy?
To be eligible for free therapy, you need to enrol in Medicare. What this means is that you’ve opted in to let Medicare assist you with the cost of healthcare in Australia. While they don’t cover everything, enrolling can help you access a wide range of health care services. Including those for mental health.
People who can enrol in Medicare are:
New Zealand citizens,
Permanent residents of Australia,
People applying to become a permanent resident of Australia
You may also be able to apply to enrol in Medicare if you’re visiting Australia from a country. Provided your country of origin has a reciprocal healthcare agreement with Australia. (Each country agrees to assist visitors if they need medical attention while overseas).
Not sure if you’re eligible? It’s worth checking out some additional information over at https://www.servicesaustralia.gov.au
Enrolling means filling out Medicare’s form and providing some certified documents relating to your identity. Once you’re enrolled, you’ll be able to access a range of mental health services at a lower — or free — rate.
What do I need to do to access free therapy?
To access therapy that is free, the first port of call is to visit your doctor.
They’ll be able to discuss your needs with you and can write a mental health treatment plan. They might ask some questions about your mental health. This will help them assess what is going to be most helpful for you. They'll then be able to refer you to a mental health professional. This could be a therapist, counsellor, psychologist or other mental health professional.
The Mental health treatment plan your doctor writes lets you claim up to 10 therapy sessions. These sessions must be with a mental health professional. 10 sessions can be claimed each calendar year. With the impact of COVID-19 there has been a recent expansion of an extra 10 sessions. This is for those affected by the pandemic.
This means there may be a total of 20 sessions that you could access for free.
Usually, to start with, you’ll be referred by your doctor for 6 sessions. If you need more sessions, your doctor can refer you for more.
Mental health professionals set their own fees. This may mean Medicare may cover all, or some of the bill. But, if you see a mental health professional who bulk bills, Medicare will cover the entire cost.
If your therapist bulk bills, you could get up to 20 therapy sessions for free. Provided you have a mental health plan from your doctor.
What is bulk billing?
Bulk billing means that rather than your doctor or medical health professional giving you the bill, they send it to Medicare who pays it on your behalf.
Mental health professionals set their own fees. This can mean that there may be a gap that you need to pay that’s the difference between what Medicare covers, and what the therapist charges. This is often called ‘the gap’.
By finding a mental health professional that bulk bills, you likely won’t have to pay anything to access the service. Not all health professionals bulk bill. Do your research before booking an appointment and don’t be afraid to ask if they offer bulk billing.
If they do, be sure to bring your medicare card to your appointment so that they can request payment from Medicare.
Is telehealth therapy covered?
Medicare knows that sometimes it’s hard to get to a therapist in person. Do you live rurally? Or has the pandemic has meant you’re restricted to the home? Telehealth therapy sessions may be covered by Medicare. Provided you have a mental health treatment plan in place, you can now access bulk billed telehealth therapy.
Wanting support while you’re pregnant?
Pregnancy can be an emotional time. Sometimes counselling can assist with processing this stage of life. If you feel in need of some support for your mental health, you may be eligible for some free therapy sessions. Ask your doctor to refer you to a counsellor for support with your pregnancy. Medicare can cover the cost of three sessions when related to pregnancy support.
Be sure to check if your therapist offers bulk billing.
Is all therapy covered by Medicare?
Medicare covers a broad range of therapy options, but keep in mind that not all types of therapy are covered. Medicare only covers therapy that is undertaken by a licensed mental health practitioner. Counselling with a pastor, for example, is not covered by Medicare. Practitioners also need to be set up to accept payments from Medicare.
To learn more about the Medicare entitlements visit Services Australia.
Other financial assistance for accessing therapy?
Considering getting some therapy? There may be some other options for accessing these services without cost.
If you currently are paying for private health insurance, check your policy. Your fund may have ‘extras’ assisting its members to access mental health services. These can often be used to supplement the Medicare rebates, depending on your policy.
I need help now.
If someone’s life is in danger, or you feel unsafe, dial 000 for immediate help.
Found yourself, or someone you love in crisis with mental health? There are a range of free services you can access for advice and support. The following organisations are available. Whether it's help finding the right therapist, or someone to talk to, they can help.
It can be hard to know where to start. But thankfully there are a range of people who can point you in the right direction.
Lifeline | 13 11 14
Carer Support | 1800 242 636 or 1300 554 660
Kids Helpline | 1800 55 1800
National Alcohol and Other Drug Hotline | 1800 250 015
QLife | 1800 184 527
Web Chat - 3pm to midnight daily
Defence Force and Veteran Support Services
Open Arms - Veterans & Families Counselling |1800 011 046
All-hours Support Line |1800 628 036
Defence Family Helpline |1800 624 608
Thanks to the National Health Commission for putting this list together.
Still got questions? If you’d like to know more about therapy, visit our Ultimate Guide to Therapy.
Finances don’t have to be a barrier to accessing the help you need, prioritise your mental health. Here is a list of low cost therapists.