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Thursday, 25 August 1994
Page: 460

(Question No. 1554)

Senator Margetts asked the Minister representing the Minister for Social Security, upon notice, on 8 July 1994:

  With reference to the case of a constituent, Mr Brian Sheedy, who is chronically disabled and requires a health care card to alleviate the high costs of medicine he takes due to his disability: given that his wife earns more than the threshold for a health care card and so he is ineligible, and Mr Sheedy is also too chronically disabled to seek work or training of any kind and so cannot get the mobility allowance:

  (1) Are there any cases like that of Mr Sheedy where someone disabled cannot get a health care card; if so, how many such cases are there.

  (2) What will the Government be doing to alleviate the high cost of pharmaceutical drugs to disabled people who cannot get a health care card.

  (3) Is the Minister aware that disabled people who are so sick they cannot get a mobility allowance are possibly more in need of health care cards than people who are `mobile' and can automatically get health care cards.

  (4) Why do current policies for disabled people's eligibility for the health care card discriminate against disabled people not eligible for the mobility allowance.

  (5) Is there any likelihood that all disabled people will eventually be allowed to have a health care card.

Senator Crowley —The Minister for Social Security has provided the following answer to the honourable senator's question:

  (1) Eligibility for disability support pension is determined on the basis of the claimant's disability and the income and assets tests, which include the income and assets of a spouse. A person who qualifies for a disability support pension would automatically be entitled to a pensioner concession card.

  The Department of Social Security (DSS) issues health care cards to people considered to be `disadvantaged' on behalf of the Department of Human Services and Health (DS&H). Disadvantage can arise through being either:

  (a) in receipt of a specific Social Security payment; or

  (b) a low income earner.

  Neither DSS nor DHS&H can identify the number of people with disabilities who do not qualify for a health care card.

  (2) All Australians not eligible for a health care card are protected by the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) in two ways.

  Firstly, pharmaceutical items listed under the PBS are subsidised by the Government so that the maximum amount that a patient pays is $16.20 (from 1 August 1994), even though some items cost hundreds of dollars. Where a doctor prescribes a more expensive brand of drug or medication, the patient may be required to also pay the "brand price premium" (the difference in price between the expensive brand and the equivalent lower-priced drug or medication.)

  Secondly, the PBS provides a safety net. Where a single person or a family spends $400 (not including the brand price premium) on these items in a calendar year, they qualify to receive all further PBS prescriptions in that year at a cost of $2.60 per prescription if they have a properly endorsed prescription record form from their pharmacist.

  It is the person's responsibility to have prescription purchases recorded by the pharmacist on a prescription record form which can be obtained from any pharmacist.

  After the $400 limit is reached for either an individual or a family, a Safety Net Concession Card can be issued by a pharmacist.

  (3) & (4) Each DSS payment intended for people with disabilities automatically qualifies the person for a health care card. Mobility Allowance is only one of these payments.

  Accordingly, people with disabilities who are not receiving Mobility Allowance can still receive a health care card if they qualify for another DSS payment, for example disability support pension, or have a low income.

  For those who do not qualify on this basis, the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme offers protection for people who incur high costs for the medication they require.

  The answers to Parts 1 and 2 outline the qualification requirements for health care cards and the safety net provisions of the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme.

  (5) The Government will continue to review programs it has in place to ensure that people in need receive assistance.