Pension assets changes may affect pharmaceutical access for thousands, but bureaucrats say intent is to provide other subsidies
Changes to the aged pension assets test will see around 90,000 retirees lose their pension, and have to apply for a senior citizens health card to continue to receive discounted medicines, a Senate committee has heard.
Department of Social Services officials being quizzed late last week by the Senate Community Affairs Estimate Committee said changes to the pensions assets test will see a substantial amount of people lose their entitlements from 1 January 2017.
Just over 90,000 people are currently estimated to lose their entitlements, Serena Wilson, Deputy Secretary, Social Security, Department of Social Services, told the hearing.
A broader group of up to 700,000 retirees could be impacted by the changes, department officials said.
Senator Murray Watt (ALP, Qld) asked if “In late December people will be advised. About 90,000 people will be advised, ‘Sorry, you’re not going to get the pension anymore from 1 [January], but we’re going to give you a Seniors Health Card’, and they will get that at the same time? Is that the plan?”
In response, Wilson said “Effectively. The exact sequence and the process is really a question for the Department of Human Services, but the intention is that they would automatically receive the Commonwealth Seniors Health Card”.
Senator Watt questioned the changes in the light of comments by then Federal Treasurer Joe Hockey in his 2015 budget speech, when he said, “Anyone who currently has a pensioner concession card will continue to receive a concession card that provides the same benefits such as subsidised utilities and transport, bulkbilling and cheaper PBS prescription medicines.”
“Is that still the intention?” he asked.
Wilson responded that “the concessions that the Commonwealth Seniors Health Card offers are the health concessions and then states and territories have their own rules about who gets what concessions depending on what cards they have”.
“The vast majority will be in the category that gets the Commonwealth Seniors Health Card, because the vast majority of people affected will be age pensioners, but to the extent that there are people on other pensions affected they will get the Health Care Card”.