Budget 2017 – seniors

Treasurer of the Commonwealth of Australia Scott Morrison delivered the Federal Budget for 2017-2018 on 9 May 2017.

 

The Budget Papers included measures affecting senior Australians. A number of the more significant measures are outlined below.

 

Energy Assistance Payment

The Government will provide $268.9 million over two years to make a one-off Energy Assistance Payment in 2016-17 of $75 for single recipients and $125 per couple for those eligible for qualifying payments on 20 June 2017 and who are resident in Australia.

 

Qualifying payments include the Age Pension, Disability Support Pension, Parenting Payment Single, the Veterans’ Service Pension and the Veterans’ Income Support Supplement, Veterans’ disability payments, War Widow(er)s Pension, and permanent impairment payments under the Military Rehabilitation and Compensation Act 2004 (including dependent partners) and the Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation Act 1988.

 

Medicare

The Medicare levy will increase by 0.5 per cent to 2.5 per cent for most working Australians.

 

Low-income earners will continue to receive relief from the Medicare levy through the low-income thresholds for singles, families, seniors and pensioners. The current exemptions from the Medicare levy will also remain in place.

 

The Government will increase the Medicare levy low-income thresholds for singles, families and seniors and pensioners from the 2016-17 income year. The increases take account of movements in the CPI so that low-income taxpayers generally continue to be exempted from paying the Medicare levy.

 

The threshold for singles will be increased to $21,655. The family threshold will be increased to $36,541 plus $3,356 for each dependent child or student.

 

For single seniors and pensioners, the threshold will be increased to $34,244. The family threshold for seniors and pensioners will be increased to $47,670 plus $3,356 for each dependent child or student.

 

The Government will establish the Medicare Guarantee Fund to secure the ongoing funding of the Medicare Benefits Schedule (MBS) and the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme. The Fund will receive revenue raised from the Medicare levy as well as a portion of personal income tax receipts.

 

The Government will provide $1.0 billion to reintroduce indexation for certain items on the MBS. This will commence with General Practitioner (GP) bulk billing incentives from 1 July 2017, to ensure that GPs are incentivised to bulk bill children under the age of 16 and concession card holders.

 

From 1 July 2018, GP and specialist consultation items will be indexed, increasing the Government’s contribution to the cost of health care services. From 1 July 2019, specialist procedure and allied health items will be indexed and from 1 July 2020 certain diagnostic imaging items will be indexed for the first time since 2004.

 

Medications

$1.2 billion in new medicines will be made available, including for patients with chronic heart failure, funded by an agreement to decrease the cost of medicines for taxpayers.

 

Hospitals

The Commonwealth will increase hospitals funding by an additional $2.8 billion over four years.

 

Mental Health

The Government will allocate an additional $115 million in mental health, including funding for rural telehealth psychological services, mental health research and to prevent suicide.

 

Palliative Care

The Government will provide $8.3 million over three years from 2017-18 to provide palliative care services for people who would prefer to be cared for in their homes rather than in a hospital or hospice setting. Funding will be provided through the Primary Health Care Networks.

 

Urgent after hours medical services

The Government will provide $145.5 million over two years from 2017-18 for Primary Health Networks to continue to fund locally tailored after-hours health services based on community need.

 

Commonwealth Home Support Program

The Government will provide $5.5 billion over two years from 2018-19 to extend the Commonwealth Home Support Program (CHSP) and Regional Assessment Services (RAS) funding arrangements.

 

The CHSP and RAS contribute to essential home support services, such as meals (Meals on Wheels), personal care, nursing, domestic assistance, home maintenance, and community transport, to assist older people to keep living independently in their own home.

 

BreastScreen Australia Program

The Government will provide an additional $64.3 million over four years from 2017-18 to continue access to the BreastScreen Australia program for women from 70 to 74 years of age, ensuring that more than 200,000 women per year in this age group will continue to have access to breast screening services.

 

This measure is in addition to the Government’s BreastScreen program for women from 50 to 69 years of age.

 

Prostate Cancer Nurses Program

The Government will provide $5.9 million over three years from 2017-18 to support 14 additional prostate cancer nurses through the Prostate Cancer Foundation of Australia and to extend the funding for the 14 current nurses already funded by the Government by another three years. This will provide specialist support for patients and their families and carers.

 

Healthy Heart Initiative

The Government will provide $15.0 million over four years from 2017-18 to increase options for people to improve activity levels and healthy lifestyles:

  • • $10.0 million for the Prime Minister’s Walk for Life Challenge to increase access to walking programs and other programs run by the Heart Foundation, including for children in schools, and to promote innovative uses of technology to support increased physical activity; and

  • • $5.0 million over four years from 2017-18 for General Practitioners to support Australians to achieve a healthy lifestyle through increased physical activity and better nutrition.

 

My Health Record

The Government will provide $374.2 million over two years from 2017-18, including $94.0 million in capital, to continue the My Health Record system and expand utilisation of the system through the implementation of national opt-out arrangements as agreed by the COAG Health Council on 24 March 2017.

 

The My Health Record system allows individuals to control and track their medical history and treatments, such as medical tests and vaccinations.

 

Pensioner Concession Card

The Government will provide $3.1 million in 2017-18 to reinstate the Pensioner Concession Card for pensioners who were no longer entitled to the pension following changes to the pension assets test from 1 January 2017. Reinstating the Pensioner Concession Card will enable pensioners to access Commonwealth subsidised hearing services as well as benefits offered by the States to card holders.

 

Downsizing housing

The Government will allow a person aged 65 or over to make a non-concessional contribution of up to $300,000 from the proceeds of selling their home from 1 July 2018.

 

These contributions will be in addition to those currently permitted under existing rules and caps and they will be exempt from the existing age test, work test and the $1.6 million balance test for making non-concessional contributions.

 

This measure will apply to sales of a principal residence owned for the past ten or more years and both members of a couple will be able to take advantage of this measure for the same home.

 

This measure reduces a barrier to downsizing for older people. Encouraging downsizing may enable more effective use of the housing stock by freeing up larger homes for younger, growing families.

 

This measure is estimated to have a cost to revenue of $30.0 million over the forward estimates period.

 

Aged Pension residency requirements

The Government will achieve savings of $119.1 million over five years from 2016-17 by revising the residency requirements for claimants of the Age Pension and the Disability Support Pension (DSP).

 

From 1 July 2018, claimants will be required to have 15 years of continuous Australian residence before being eligible to receive the Age Pension or DSP unless they have either:

  • 10 years continuous Australian residence, with five years of this residence being during their working life (16 years of age to Age Pension age)

  • 10 years continuous Australian residence, without having received an activity tested income support payment for a cumulative period of five years.

Existing exemptions for DSP applicants who acquire their disability in Australia will continue to apply.

 

My Aged Care

The Government will provide $3.1 million in 2017-18 to support the operations of the My Aged Care platform that provides advice and assistance to aged care consumers and providers.

 

Aged care workforce strategy

The Government will provide $1.9 million over two years from 1 July 2017 to establish and support an industry-led aged care workforce taskforce. The taskforce will explore options to improve productivity in the aged care workforce and contribute to the development of an aged care workforce strategy, including for regional and remote areas.

 

Specialist Domestic Violence Units

The Government will provide $3.4 million over two years from 2017-18 to expand the trial of Domestic Violence Units (DVUs) in legal centres around Australia. The DVUs provide legal and other assistance to women who are experiencing, or at risk of, domestic or family violence.

 

The services assist women to access other services such as financial counselling, tenancy assistance, trauma counselling, emergency accommodation, family law services and employment services. The locations of the DVUs will be determined based on areas of need, in consultation with State and Territory Governments.

 

Australian Participants of British Nuclear Tests and Veterans of the British Commonwealth Occupation Force

The Government will provide $133.1 million over four years from 2017-18 to provide participants in the British Nuclear Test program in Australia and veterans of the British Commonwealth Occupation Force (BCOF) with access to treatment using the Department of Veterans’ Affairs Gold Card pursuant to the Australian Participants in British Nuclear Tests (Treatment) Act 2006, from public or private health care providers for any medical condition, irrespective of whether the condition is linked to their service.

 

During the 1950s and 1960s the British Government conducted tests of nuclear weapons at Maralinga and Emu Field in South Australia and on the Montebello Islands in Western Australia. Following the Second World War, Australian veterans who joined the BCOF in its occupation of Japan were deployed in or near Hiroshima, which was affected by nuclear radiation.

 

Pensioner Education Supplement and Education Entry Payment

The Government will achieve savings of $94.7 million over five years from 2016-17 by more closely aligning the payment rates for the Pensioner Education Supplement (PES) and the Education Entry Payment (EdEP).

 

Under the new arrangements, PES and EdEP will be aligned with study loads undertaken by eligible recipients:

  • students undertaking a study load of 76 to 100 per cent will receive the full rate of PES and/or EdEP;

  • students undertaking a study load of 51 to 75 per cent will receive a payment equal to 75 per cent of the full rate of PES and/or EdEP;

  • students undertaking a study load of 26 to 50 per cent will receive a payment equal to 50 per cent of the full rate of PES and/or EdEP;

  • students undertaking a study load of 25 per cent will receive a payment equal to 25 per cent of the full rate of PES and/or EdEP;

  • students undertaking a study load of less than 25 per cent will not be entitled to PES and/or EdEP as per current rules.

 

In addition, PES will only be available when a recipient is engaged in study, not during semester breaks and end of year holidays.

 

10 May 2017.