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Getting quick access to private mental health care

Government changes have made getting private mental health care easier. Mental health executive Colman O'Driscoll explains you can now upgrade your private hospital insurance cover to include mental health care with no waiting periods.

Since April 2018, it is easier for you to access mental health care in private hospitals.

As long as you have basic hospital cover, you can now contact your insurer to update your cover to include psychiatric care and you won’t have any waiting periods.

This applies to all private hospital mental health care, including perinatal and alcohol and drug treatment.

St John of God Health Care mental health hospitals 

When do I need to upgrade my cover?

You only need to upgrade your cover immediately before you are admitted to hospital.

However, you can choose to upgrade your cover at any time and you will not have to wait before accessing care.

We recommend you speak to your health insurer as soon as you are referred to mental health care.

How do I upgrade my cover?

To upgrade your cover, you simply call your health insurer who can action the upgrade immediately while you are on the phone.

If you upgrade your cover you will need to pay a new premium from the day the new cover applied. You should speak to your health insurer to find out the new costs and when the premium is payable.

What if I don’t have private hospital insurance at all?

If you don’t have private hospital insurance then you will need to wait two months before you can get covered for your mental health care.

Can I upgrade and then downgrade?

Yes, how you manage your health insurance is up to you. However, it is important to note that you can only access this waiting period exemption once in the lifetime of the policy.

What costs are covered by private health insurance?

In general, Medicare and your private health fund will cover the full cost of your care at our hospitals. This is called the no gap arrangement where you don’t have any out of pocket expenses as long as you have private health insurance.

If you are seeing one of our psychiatrists as an outpatient, you will have a gap fee to pay at your first appointment. After this, the majority of your costs are covered by Medicare but some doctors may still charge a small out of pocket fee, the amount is set by the individual doctor – similar to your family doctor.

You can call your psychiatrist’s office before you see them to ask for their fees and charges.

Need more information?

The Department of Health has a great factsheet about these changes and frequently asked questions about private health insurance which can help you understand this further.

We recommend speaking to your private health insurer to check what your current policy includes and excludes.

Colman ODriscoll
Colman O'Driscoll Chief Executive Officer

About the Author

Colman is the Chief Executive Officer of St John of God Burwood and Richmond Hospitals. Colman has more than 20 years’ experience across the health system, including senior leadership roles within the government, not-for-profit and private sectors. His experience includes working as the Chief of Staff in the NSW Government where he was responsible for driving significant reforms within the NSW Mental Health system, including the establishment of the NSW Mental Health Commission.