Latest news | 23 Sep 2020

MBS item numbers for eating disorders – benefits, concerns, and recommendations


Wednesday 23 September

Butterfly Foundation, the national charity for eating disorders and body image concerns, today launched the results of a community survey about the Medicare Item Numbers for Eating Disorders, including recommendations to further support people to access the help they need. 

Butterfly’s online survey, aimed at understanding the experiences of accessing treatment under Medicare item numbers for eating disorders among eating disorder sufferers and their carers, has shown the Medicare Benefits Schedule items (MBS items) to be of considerable benefit.

“I cannot express enough how much it changed my life,” said one respondent.

Just over 95 per cent of those respondents who were able to access Eating Disorder Management Plans (EDMPs) perceived the new MBS items as helpful to them or the person for whom they care; with 83 per cent reporting having received empathic and competent care. These included comments that the Plan had been instrumental in their journey towards recovery:

“This new scheme has provided me with the support I really needed and could never have accessed before. I’m forever grateful. I just hope I can keep accessing treatment until I’m truly ready, without it being cut short.”

However, finding qualified professionals, the eligibility criteria, and out of pocket costs were all highlighted as barriers to accessing care under the item numbers. As one participant described, “Overall great but could be improved with improved clarity re developing plans, difficulties getting specialist review due to costs and wait lists, very restricted ‘content’ as to what can be discussed or worked on when billing under this MBS number as ED treatment is not a one size fits all.”

A total of 237 respondents who completed the survey had lived experience of an eating disorder or were carers of individuals who have/had a lived experience of eating disorders. The majority (85%) were aware of the new MBS items, and reported that the Scheme has made treatment more accessible and affordable.

It’s life saving. If it had been around when I got really I’ll, I’d NEVER have gotten to such a terrible place. With Covid this year and a slight pay cut, I’m SO grateful. This is easily the best mental illness care plan in the world. I really feel like I can fully get my brain back and I am SO LUCKY to have this opportunity.

While many had benefited from the scheme, there were still barriers to access for some participants. One of the biggest barriers to accessing the scheme was gaining access to general practitioners who are aware of the scheme and have the knowledge needed to fill out the forms.

“When I went to get the Medicare plan, the GP had no idea what it was and had to contact 3 other GPs before finding someone who knew about it.“

A number of respondents also reported that even with the MBS items, treatment for some is still unaffordable. Other barriers mentioned included the need for psychiatrist reviews, the eligibility criteria, and the narrow range of therapies covered. For some, geographic location and lack of access to health professionals who specialise in eating disorders created an additional obstacle.

“Not feeling as much shame in asking for help or telling your doctor you need help with your eating disorder. And also, more availability of psychologists to see that specialise in eating disorders. I immediately get disheartened as there is no one who can fit me in or will be able to see me as a new patient.”

Participants suggested the required psychiatric review was sometimes a problem, causing long waiting times both in finding a psychiatrist and in the length of time it took the psychiatrist to complete the review. Having to access a psychiatrist also led to extra costs that some participants could not afford.

 “Having a review with a psychiatrist, if you aren’t currently linked in with one can be a huge barrier, as many who specialise in eds have extensive wait lists, which often means paying out of pocket until the review can be done.”

“If you are going to make a plan requiring a psychiatrist review there needs to be psychiatrists to do the reviews, I can’t continue because I can’t get a signature and my psychologist says I am more than eligible.”

Butterfly’s recommendations include additional research to assess the impact of the MBS items on underrepresented cohorts; continued, consistent promotion of the MBS items to maintain and improve levels of awareness over time; investment in targeted awareness-raising of the MBS items among GPs; and continuing to engage people with eating disorders and their families and carers to provide informed person-centred care that values the individual and understands treatment from the patient’s perspective.

“Eating disorders are the only mental illnesses to have their own MBS item numbers, so it is imperative that they are well supported and are fulfilling a real need for this community,” said Kevin Barrow, CEO, Butterfly Foundation. “While these results are promising, with widespread support among those accessing the Scheme, they do demonstrate that more needs to be done. People who have experienced an eating disorder as well as those who care for them, are at the forefront of our work with the Federal Government, as we draw on their experiences to inform and refine these item numbers.”


Media Contact

Alex Cowen, Communications Manager, Butterfly Foundation – 0497 008 716

Full copy of the report

Editor and producers note: Please include the following support line details in all media coverage of this story and refer to the Mindframe Media guidelines for safe reporting on eating disorders. Please include the following helpline message.

Help and Support

Anyone needing support with eating disorders or body image issues is encouraged to contact:

  • Butterfly National Helpline on 1800 33 4673 (1800 ED HOPE) or
  • Eating Disorders Victoria Helpline on 1300 550 23
  • For urgent support call Lifeline 13 11 14