The Albanese government is citing problems with fair access as it slashes subsidised visits to psychologists in 2023 to the pre-COVID pandemic level of 10 per person.
Health Minister Mark Butler announced the Better Access program was being scaled back from the temporary pandemic measure of doubling to 20 visits in 2020 as not everyone had been able to access it equally.
Mr Butler cited an independent evaluation by the University of Melbourne that found people from lower socio-economic backgrounds, those living in regional, rural and remote areas and aged care residents were "missing out".
"The evaluation I am publishing today considered the impact of additional 10 sessions and found that they drove a very big increase in the number of services in this sector generally," the minister told reporters.
"But, it found that those additional 10 aggravated existing waitlists and aggravated barriers to access, particularly by the groups that I've mentioned.
"The evaluation found that all of the additional services went to existing patients, and that the number of new patients who are able to get into the system and get access to psychology service actually declined by seven per cent over the course of that period."
Mr Butler said he will speak to the sector about improving mental health support for people in vulnerable groups
"I'll make this commitment that very early in the new year, I'll be bringing together those groups to have a very frank discussion about what we can do going forward to continue to preserve the benefits of this program." he said.
"Because they are significant, but [we must] ensure that those benefits more equitably flow through the community."
The halving of mental health support comes as the Health Minister also released the national COVID-19 management plan for 2023, warning Australia can expect "new waves on a regular basis for at least the next two years".
The plan states Australia will transition to managing COVID-19 in a similar way to other respiratory viruses, moving away from "COVID exceptionalism and bespoke arrangements".
But it also recognised COVID-19 continues to disproportionately affect some Australians, including those in aged care, Indigenous Australians, people with disabilities and multicultural communities.
Under the plan, free PCR tests will only be available with a doctor or nurse practitioner referral from 2023.