Seniors Clash Over Budget Assistance
18 February 2014 at 10:45 am
Two major seniors organisations have clashed over what they want the Federal Government to deliver in the upcoming Federal Budget.
The National Seniors consumer lobby organisation, which claims to have 200,000 members, has pushed the economic case for mature age workers; backed a $6 fee for GP visits; and called to delay the Coalition’s paid parental leave scheme in a Federal Budget submission.
“Older Australians are moving in step with calls to tighten spending,” National Seniors Chief Executive Michael O’Neill said. “We’ve pared back requests, focussed on productivity and identified a handful of savings across the spectrum.”
“Health is clearly an area ripe for efficiencies. Projected to account for two-thirds of increased government spending by 2050, it’s heavy with demand and plagued by duplication,” the head of the national consumer lobby for the over-50s said.
“A safety-net-backed $6 fee for GP visits is something consumers can handle, and is preferable to a blanket increase in the Medicare Levy, which is already rising from 1.5 to 2 per cent in July to fund the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS).”
However, the Combined Pensioners and Superannuants Association, CPSA, says it strongly opposes the suggestion by National Seniors that older people support a $6 fee to visit a doctor.
“National Seniors has made it clear that they only represent older people with money,” Senior CPSA Policy Advisor Amelia Christie said.
“Bulk billing doctors are already an endangered species. In many practices only patients with a Centrelink Health Care Card are eligible. So a co-contribution fee suggestion targets people living on low incomes.
“Many people who live on a full rate Pension or Allowance – whether that be the Age Pension, the Disability Support Pension, the Carers Payment or Newstart survive from one fortnight’s pay to the next. A $6 fee will prevent many from seeking medical advice when required.
“There is evidence that low income households already avoid seeking medical treatment for financial reasons: even if the consultation is bulk billed, it invariably includes a prescription or referrals for scans or other treatment that may not be entirely covered by Medicare.
“The suggestion that a co-contribution payment will discourage people from making “unnecessary” visits to their GP is appalling. GPs are the gateway to other health services and it is essential that people are able to get advice and care when needed. Having people ration GP visits may result in more costs to the health system in the long run if people wait until a condition worsens before seeking out medical advice.”
“CPSA calls on the Australian Government to rule out dismantling bulk billing and any move towards a user pays system. Bulk billing is crucial to ensuring that everyone is able to access a doctor when they need it,”Christie said.
The National Seniors submission also calls on Government to delay its paid parental leave scheme.
“After six years of budget deficits, now is not the time to introduce a generous parental leave scheme. To do so, would send an inconsistent message to groups willing to pare back,” O’Neill said.
Under the heading ‘productivity’, the submission calls for the pre-emptive reskilling of older workers in declining industries and support for mature age entrepreneurship.
“Without reskilling, long term unemployment rates show older workers in collapsed industries will struggle to get back into the workforce. We’re calling on government to get on the front foot and provide practical re-training opportunities long before factory closures,” O’Neill said.
“Research shows we lose $16 billion a year by not employing older people who want to work, and just a 5 per cent increase in over-55s workforce participation would add almost $50 billion to the economy.”
The submission identifies further efficiencies in national drug purchasing arrangements; health duplications; and marriage counselling vouchers.
It opposes raising the pension and preservation ages without job market improvements; increasing the Medicare Levy; including the family home in the age pension assets test; and using the family home via a reverse mortgage to pay for aged care.