Government pensions, benefits and services for people with chronic health issues

Australians are fortunate to have access to a wide range of government health resources. Sometimes, though, it can be hard to know what these are or how to access them.

We’ve prepared a list of the more common pensions, benefits and services available for those with chronic health issues such as arthritis. Click on the blue headings to take you to the relevant Government page for more information.

Centrelink

Sickness Allowance
A payment for people aged 22 years or older, but under age pension age, who temporarily can’t work or study because of an injury, illness or disability. To be eligible for this allowance, you must meet specific requirements including age, income, asset and residency. You must have work or study to return to when you recover.

Disability Support Pension
If you have a physical, intellectual or psychiatric condition that stops them from working for 15 hours or more per week, you may be eligible for this pension. Applicants may need to undergo a Job Capacity Assessment to determine their medical needs and employment capacity. Restrictions apply.

You are allowed to have some casual or part-time work but your pension amount may be affected.

Mobility Allowance
To be eligible for the Mobility Allowance, you must be 16 or over and:

  • Have a disability that prevents you from using public transport without extra help (there does not need to be public transport in your area for you to qualify), AND
  • Need to travel to and from your home as part of your work, self-employment, training or job seeking.

You may also be entitled to receive the Mobility Allowance if you participate in regular volunteer work. See the current eligibility criteria for more information.

Note that even if you don’t use public transport often, you may still be eligible for this allowance. However, you need to have a medical report saying that, if you did have to use public transport regularly, you would find it difficult or impossible.

It is possible to be eligible for a Mobility Allowance plus some other Centrelink benefits. You cannot receive a Mobility Allowance if you are receiving a support package from the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS).

The Mobility Allowance is not income tested.

Concession and Health Care Cards
Many Centrelink pensions, allowances and benefits (such as the Mobility Allowance) come with a Pensioner Concession Card, a Health Care Card or a similar type of card.

Most of these cards give you access to cheaper prescription medicines under the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) and concessions on expenses such as public transport, household energy and internet bills and a range of health services.

Other pensions and benefits
Centrelink provide a range of other pensions, allowances and benefits including Newstart, Youth Allowance and the Youth Disability Supplement.

Medicare

Medicare Safety Net
If you see a doctor often or have tests regularly, your medical costs could be high. Visiting a doctor or having tests may cost you less once you reach a Medicare Safety Net threshold. Once you reach the relevant threshold, the Medicare Safety Net may provide a higher Medicare benefit for all eligible services for the rest of the calendar year.

The Safety Net is available for individuals and families; however, you do need to register to be included in this scheme.

Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS)
The PBS Schedule lists all of the medicines available to be dispensed to patients at a Government-subsidised price. The Schedule is part of the wider Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme managed by the Department of Health and administered by Department of Human Services. The Scheme is available to all Australian residents who hold a current Medicare card.

This schedule is now on-line and updated monthly. This on-line searchable version contains:

  • All of the drugs listed on the PBS.
  • Information on the conditions of use for the prescribing of PBS medicines.
  • Detailed consumer information for medicines that have been prescribed by your doctor or dentist.
  • What you can expect to pay for medicines.

PBS Safety Net
The PBS Safety Net reduces the cost of prescription medicines for individuals and families once the PBS Safety Net threshold has been reached. The PBS Safety Net threshold is updated on 1 January each year.

It is important to keep a record of your PBS medicines on a Prescription Record Form, available from your pharmacist. Use this form to record your PBS medicines so you know when you have reached the PBS Safety Net threshold. You can combine the amounts for all eligible family members to help you reach the safety net sooner.

If the same pharmacist provides all your PBS medicines, ask them to keep a computer record for you.

Chronic Illness Management Plan
If you have a chronic medical condition, your doctor may suggest a Chronic Illness Management Plan (sometimes called a GP Management Plan). This is a plan determined by you and your GP to identify your health care needs and decide on a suitable course of action.

If you need treatment from 2 or more health professionals, your doctor may also put a Team Care Arrangement plan in place for you. This lets your doctor work with, and refer you to, at least 2 other health professionals who will provide treatment or services to you.

Medicare rebate assistance is available for this plan up to a maximum of 5 appointments per patient per calendar year.

GP Mental Health Treatment Plan
If you are experiencing mental health issues such as anxiety or depression, talk to your GP as they can provide an impartial ear and, if appropriate, recommend a Mental Health Treatment Plan for you.

This may involve referring you to a psychologist, psychiatrist, counsellor or another allied mental health professional. In most cases, Medicare rebate assistance is available for up to 10 appointments per patient per calendar year.

Flu vaccinations
The influenza vaccine is free to people six months and over who are classified as medically at risk. This may include those with chronic health conditions or reduced immunity due to disease or treatment

Health Care Homes
Health Care Homes is a new scheme, currently being rolled out through Medicare, that will allow primary-care clinics to act as service coordinators for patients with chronic conditions. If your GP clinic is registered as a Health Care Home you can ask to be assessed for this scheme.

A tailored plan will be developed for you with your full input. This will include working with other health providers as needed and devising a plan to help you optimise your quality of life. You and your service providers will have access to shared digital records and communications within and outside appointment hours.

Stage 1 of the rollout of this scheme has begun and is expected to be fully implemented across Australia over the next few years. For more information, see our article The Health Care Homes basics you need to know.

My Health Record

My Health Record is run by the Australian Digital Health Agency. It is an online resource where you can securely store your health information and share it with others. You decide who can see your records (including doctors, hospitals and other health service providers) and also what information you want to include.

Your record can be used to store a list of your medications, allergies and preferred practitioners. This is especially useful for those seeing multiple health professionals or in emergency situations.

My Health Record is available now and will form an integral part of the Health Care Homes scheme.

National Disability Insurance Scheme

The National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) is a government service that will provide extensive support for Australians with a disability, their families and carers. It will provide funding for and assistance with accessing a range of community and employment services.

The NDIS will not be income tested so it won’t affect Centrelink income support payments such as the Disability Support Pension. However, it will eventually replace other benefits including the Mobility Allowance.

Other resources

Victorian Patient Transport Assistance Scheme (Please note that other states may have similar schemes)

Australian Disability Parking Scheme

Also, check the relevant department of health or human services in your state.