Warning: This article deals with the topic of depression and may be triggering for some readers.
$25,000 to $35,000. This is how much experts are predicting a course of psychedelic therapy will set you back in Australia.
The experimental therapy that has shown promising results as a game-changing treatment for stubborn, life-changing mental health disorders like depression and post-traumatic stress disorder, is likely to be far from reach for the vast majority of the population.
That’s according to experts, and people who can count, who say that the cost of hiring two psychologists to sit in on multiple sessions of at least eight hours — per the TGA’s requirements — is simply prohibitive.
“If you put two clinical psychologists in a room for eight hours, at a [Medicare] billing rate of $120 an hour – which is not what people charge, they charge $200 to $300 – you have an enormously expensive treatment. I think it could get higher [than $25,000], Professor Chris Langmead of the Monash Institute of Pharmaceutical Sciences told The Sydney Morning Herald.
The Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) said last month that authorised psychiatrists would be able to prescribe MDMA or psilocybin, the active ingredient in magic mushrooms, alongside a course of therapy for the treatment of certain mental illnesses from July 1. This makes Australia the first country on Earth to take such a step.
However, since the TGA opened this path, questions have been raised over numerous aspects of the process and the approvals decision. One of the big ones is over how exactly it’s going to be delivered and who, outside of mining oligarchs and C-suite finance people, will be able to afford such costs.
“For the actual patient, it might be $25,000, $30,000 for a treatment,” Dr Stephen Bright, director of Psychedelic Research In Science & Medicine, has said.
“I honestly don’t think, for the next 12 to 18 months post July 1, that these treatments will be very widely available at all. The tight controls of therapy mean there are very few psychologists who put their hand up. There will be a few clinics that open up, but I don’t think we’re going to see the floodgates open.”
The treatment is currently without any form of government assistance and those who suffer from these conditions are typically not at the upper echelons of financial wealth.
“No matter which way you look at it, it will take time away from other treatments and cost a whole bunch of money,” said the University of Melbourne’s Professor Gillinder Bedi.
“It’s going to be for people with money, in the initial stages at least.”
Mind Medicine Australia, the organisation behind the TGA application to legalise the use of these drugs in therapy, has said that they are trying to establish some kind a philanthropic funding system to cover some of the costs of this treatment.
However, over the course of a year, people afflicted with depression are expected to collectively lose $1062 million in income, a figure that is expected to rise to $1539 million by 2030, according to one 2019 study. Depression is also expected to increase government costs in welfare and lost tax revenue by 22% and 45%, respectively, over the next seven years. This is thanks to the impact this disease has on productivity.
Therefore, although expensive, it may well be in the government’s best interest to fund these treatments. After all, cancer treatment costs the taxpayer an average of $33,944 in the first year, per patient, and we are more than happy to pay for this.
Dr Paul Liknaitzky, the Head of the Clinical Psychedelic Lab at Monash University, has said that the government ought to consider covering the costs of treatment, given the economic impact of mental health.
“Sensible and safe treatment approaches, based on decades of best-practice development, will include considerable screening, psychotherapy, and other support,” he said.
“If it turns out to be cost-effective, it will be in the government’s interest to fund it.”
However, the new Labor government has not appeared to make mental health care a priority in its first year in government. In December, the government slashed the number of mental health sessions available on Medicare from 20 down to ten, saying that the pandemic policy was no longer necessary or financially viable.
With such attitudes in government, it seems unlikely that highly expensive, experimental mental health care will be government-subsidised for a long time. Or when it can be proven to be both psychologically and financially effective.
So, until then, it’s likely that psychedelic therapy will be available to only a very select few, with the millions who really need it being unable to access this resource.
If this article brings up any issues for you or anyone you know, or you think you may be experiencing depression or need support with your mental health, please contact your GP or in Australia, contact Lifeline (13 11 14), Kids Helpline (1800 55 1800) or Beyond Blue (1300 22 4636), all of which provide trained counsellors you can talk with 24/7.