No free PCR tests without referral from 1 January

3 minute read

The change is part of the government's plan to move 'away from covid exceptionalism'.

Federally subsidised PCR covid tests will require a referral from a doctor or nurse practitioner next year, in one of the changes outlined in the government’s National Covid-19 Health Management Plan released today.  

State-run clinics that continue to operate will have their 50-50 funding extended, however, and will continue to offer free testing without referrals.

GP-led respiratory clinics, which were due to wind up on 31 December, will have their funding extended into next year.

PCR tests will not be a public health requirement or recommendation for low-risk individuals, despite the government predicting that waves of covid will continue into 2023.  

“Over 2023, Australia will transition to managing covid-19 in a similar way to other respiratory viruses, moving away from covid exceptionalism and bespoke arrangements,” the plan says. 

“Testing for covid-19 will no longer be a surveillance tool but will be more targeted and used to ensure quick access to antiviral treatments. 

“For 2023 … the Commonwealth will continue and extend the 50/50 funding arrangements for state PCR testing clinics, where states choose to continue those clinics or other PCR testing services, and also for state vaccine administration services as well,” Health Minister Mark Butler said at a press conference today.  

“The Commonwealth is also extending special Medicare or MBS items for PCR testing in pathology clinics … GP consults for covid-positive patients and for people who are seeking a prescription for oral antiviral medicines for covid. We’re also extending existing arrangements to ensure that vulnerable groups in particular in the community are protected. They particularly relate to residential aged care, to residential disability care, and First Nations communities.

“We’re also announcing the extension of GP respiratory clinics. The vast bulk of them will continue to operate throughout the remainder of summer, and from the first of March will be put on to a retainer arrangement where that can be agreed so that they’re able to scale up in the event of future waves.”

The federal government’s focus is on continuing to provide support for testing for those at highest risk, announcing a new National Partnership Agreement to Protect Priority Groups.

NOTE: This story is being updated.

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