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  • Australian abortion providers fear telehealth changes

    Author: AAP

Australian abortion providers warn a return to pre-pandemic restrictions could prevent women using telehealth services to access medical terminations.

An Australian abortion provider fears telehealth measures introduced during the coronavirus pandemic will be rolled back in September but the government says there are no plans to limit the services.

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Marie Stopes Australia says women could face higher out-of-pocket costs when they try to access discreet medical abortions if the measures are done away with.

Before the pandemic, people were only allowed to bill Medicare for telehealth when it was their regular GP or one they had seen in the past six months.

Deputy medical director Catriona Melville says under that system, abortion providers like Marie Stopes would have to charge clients more.

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"The restrictions being placed on them would basically make them unusable for reproductive health," Dr Melville told AAP.

Marie Stopes has seen a 25 per cent jump in women using telehealth to access medical abortions since April.

They expect this number to grow as movement becomes more restricted in Victoria due to the rapid rise of coronavirus cases.

However, federal Health Minister Greg Hunt said telehealth would continue for the long term.

"We are not proposing to include or exclude individual items as part of that process," he told AAP.

A study released on Friday found telehealth abortions may improve access where distance and out-of-pocket costs are barriers.

The 24 Marie Stopes clients surveyed in 2018 said the at-home service offered equal or even superior privacy.

It also allowed them to access medical abortions with minimal disruption to work and childcare responsibilities.

Dr Melville said telehealth medical abortions mainly helped women living in regional or rural areas.

"It's a time-sensitive procedure, women have to have the drugs in nine weeks," she said.

Healthy women with no reason to see a GP every six months could also miss out on subsidised telehealth if access is rolled back, Dr Melville said.

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