‘Helping the most vulnerable’: Senior access to affordable healthcare a priority for Labor

Jun 13, 2022
Labor's plans to prioritise seniors. Source: Getty

Minister for Social Services Amanda Rishworth has reaffirmed Labor’s pledge to ease the stress of cost living pressures for older Australians by expanding seniors’ access to discounted healthcare.

The expansion will see over 50,000 older Australians eligible for the Commonwealth Seniors Health Card, a scheme that provides discounts on medication and doctor’s appointments and includes utility concessions.

In an interview with the Australian Financial Review (AFR), Rishworth says making healthcare more affordable for seniors is a “first order of business” for Labor to address.

“I don’t want to give a specific timeframe because you can’t predict the parliament, but certainly, it is a first order of business to get that legislation introduced into the parliament,” Rishworth said.

“I very much view my department and the work that we do, as helping the most vulnerable. I don’t want to see a situation where because people are getting social security payments they are somehow discriminated against or demonised.

“We should have a strong safety net in this country, to support people when they are down and out. When it comes to my view about the role that all elements of my department play, it is about supporting our most vulnerable and making sure people aren’t left behind when they are faced with difficult circumstances.”

If Labor’s election pledge comes to fruition, the income test for the Commonwealth Seniors Health Card will increase from $57,761 to $90,000 a year for singles and from $92,416 to $144,000 a year for couples.

Labor’s promises to seniors include reducing the cost of medicine under the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme, bulk-billed doctor visits, and 50 bulk-billed Medicare Urgent Care Clinics to provide seniors greater access to urgent care without long hospital wait times. 

Under the previous government, pensioners received a 2.1 per cent increase to the Age Pension in a bid to ease the cost of living.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese slammed the move as inadequate, telling reporters “the rise in the pension will not keep up with the costs of living”.

“When they get to the supermarket to buy products they find that everything‘s gone up,” Albanese said.

“Pensioners are doing it really tough at the moment.”

Data released from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) has revealed older Australians are suffering the most from the rising cost of living.

Head of Prices Statistics at the ABS Michelle Marquardt said the increase in grocery prices is putting a lot of pressure on pensioners, but household costs are playing a large role as well.

“These households were also more affected by increases in housing costs, as they have relatively higher expenditure levels on utilities, maintenance and repair, and property rates,” Marquardt said.

Pensioners are experiencing a raised annual household living cost of 4.9 per cent, the highest increase seen in 16 years.

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