Centrelink delays force retirees to wait 10 months for health discount cards

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Commonwealth Seniors Health Card enable cheaper health care and some discounts. Source: Getty.

For many senior Australians the price of medication can quickly add up, with many relying on the Commonwealth Seniors Health Card to keep costs down. However, one retired couple has called on Centrelink to improve its system, after they were forced to wait 10 months to receive their discount cards.

Ian and Gabrielle Jones, from Toowoomba, QLD, were unable to purchase medication at the reduced price while they waited for the cards to arrive, leaving the couple approximately $600 out of pocket by the time the discount cards arrived at the end of September. 

Ian, a former teacher and professional engineer, told Starts at 60: “The system is not really transparent, it’s almost impossible to find out what’s going on for starters. Secondly, the fact that you have to wait months for a card. It took us 10 months and I’ve heard loads of people complaining about the same thing – there ought to be some easy way to get a temporary card when you apply, or a number or something.

“It’s totally non-transparent. It seems to me that the only people who can sort it out are the chemist and Medicare. We, as individuals, shouldn’t have to go through this.”

The 72-year-old and his wife applied for the discount cards at the end of last year, after Gabrielle, 66, retired from nursing and her superannuation pushed the couple over the limit of the assets test, meaning they were not eligible to receive the Age Pension.

Ian and his wife Gabrielle had to wait 10 months. Source: Supplied.
Ian and his wife Gabrielle had to wait 10 months for their seniors health card. Source: Supplied.

Despite calling Centrelink regularly to check on the progress of their applications, the couple was left with no explanation as to why the process was taking so long. They were left with no option but to pay full price for their medication, including pills for Ian’s heart condition, and were told to keep copies of their receipts so they could later seek reimbursement.

“I had to pay the full $28.25 and the Medicare refund when we got it was $11.24, which means that I paid $16.41 for a medication that I would usually pay $10.73 for, if I had my card. That’s where Medicare said it’s not their problem it’s the pharmacy’s.”

Thankfully, Ian had held on to every single one of his receipts and meticulously documented what he had paid for medication in a spreadsheet, meaning that when he received his refund from Medicare he was able to instantly recognise that he had been shortchanged by around $120.  

“One thing I learned many years ago is to keep records of diaries and receipts, so I keep all of my receipts,” he added. “The beauty of that was I could then go back and say I used to get charged $10.73 for this. Now most people I think wouldn’t know what they’d paid last week and they probably wouldn’t keep their receipts.

“This is where it becomes really difficult and there has got to be a better way of doing things than this. We’re not on a great amount of medication so our medical bills are probably quite low compared to a lot of people. So I can imagine some of these people who are on massive doses of drugs, if they had to wait six months for a card I’d hate to think how much they’d be out of pocket.”

The couple had to argue their case with their local pharmacist and, thanks to Ian’s detailed record keeping, they were able to get back the rest of the money they were owed.

Department of Human Services General Manager Hank Jongen told Starts at 60 said: “Commonwealth Seniors Health Card (CSHC) claims can be complex and processing timeframes can vary from person to person.

“While a CSHC claim is being processed, people can ask their pharmacist for an official PBS refund receipt so they can seek a reimbursement of the PBS concession price once their CSHC is granted.”

What are your thoughts on this story? Have you had any similar issues with Centrelink?

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