Financial benefits for Australians with chronic health conditions

Are you one of the many Australians with chronic health issues who are too young for the age pension but you don’t qualify for the Disability Support Pension due to your household income? If so, there is a fair chance you could be struggling with the financial burden of all your out-of-pocket health expenses.

Perhaps you can’t work, but your partner’s income means you are not eligible for a pension, even if all their income goes on making ends meet. Or, maybe you’re single, but you work full-time because you can’t afford not to, even if that means pushing through extreme pain and fatigue.

Despite all this, there is one little-known Centrelink allowance that you may be eligible for — and it can help you qualify for many other financial benefits.

Mobility Allowance

The Mobility Allowance is a Centrelink payment that can help you with travel costs if you have a diagnosed illness, disability or injury.

The Mobility Allowance is not income tested. Plus, if you don’t receive other Centrelink benefits, your allowance will come with a Health Care Card. (Most pensions already come with an equivalent concession card.)

While the allowance is certainly appreciated, it is the prized Health Care Card (HCC) that can make a huge difference to your budget.

To be eligible for the Mobility Allowance, you must meet all of the following criteria. You:

  • Are 16 years or over.
  • Meet the appropriate Australian residency requirements.
  • 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.)
  • Have a medical report from your doctor stating you can’t use public transport without help.
  • Need to travel to and from your home as part of your work, self-employment, training, job-seeking or approved volunteer work for at least 32 hours every four weeks.

Note that even if you don’t use public transport often, you may still be eligible for this allowance. However, your medical report needs to prove that, if you did have to use public transport regularly, you would find it difficult without help.

But, what if you can’t work in a regular job because of your chronic condition? Depending on your circumstances, you may still have options that could help you meet the criteria. It might involve you reframing your perceptions of what you can and can’t do, though.

The 32 hours of approved activity away from your home every four weeks might sound like a lot, but let’s break it down. That’s an average of eight hours a week or less than an hour a day. Here are some activities that you might already be doing or you might consider trying:

  • Working part-time in a job that you can manage for a few hours at a time, such as an office job nearby.
  • Studying for a qualification online at home but doing research at your local library twice a week.
  • Doing one or more voluntary activities in your community. Local councils, community health centres, neighbourhood houses and sports clubs, for example, are always looking for volunteers in many capacities. You could also consider volunteering as a health consumer representative.

The money you receive from the Mobility Allowance is intended to help you cover the cost of getting to and from these activities. Once you have a HCC (or similar Centrelink concession card), you can use it to access a wide range of other benefits, such as those listed below.

Of course, not everyone will meet the Mobility Allowance criteria, but it’s a good idea to investigate it as you could tick all the boxes. You might like to do this as soon as possible as it may not be around from mid next year.

Upcoming changes to the Mobility Allowance

The Mobility Allowance program is currently transitioning into the National Disability Support Scheme (NDIS). The Mobility Allowance will be closed to new entrants from 1 July 2020, subject to legislation. 

Once the rollout of the NDIS has been completed, existing Mobility Allowance recipients, who are ineligible for the NDIS, will be ‘grandfathered’ and continue to receive their payment until they no longer meet the eligibility criteria or exit the program. They will also keep their Health Care Card.

Those currently receiving the Mobility Allowance who do transition to the NDIS will no longer receive the Mobility Allowance or a Health Care Card, but they may be eligible for financial support for transport and a wide range of other NDIS supports.

Multi Purpose Taxi Program (MPTP)

The Multi Purpose Taxi Program is run by the State Government of Victoria, however, some other Australian state governments run similar programs. (See below for a list of helpful links.)

Members receive 50 per cent off the standard taxi fare (covering up to $60 per trip). Melbournians can also use their MPTP card in Oiii vehicles and investigations are currently underway to see if MPTP cards might be used through hire car (including rideshare) Booking Service Providers.

To be eligible for this program, you must:

  • Be a permanent resident of Australia and live in Victoria
  • Have a severe and permanent disability that your doctor deems is not likely to improve with treatment
  • Be unable to use public transport safely and independently.

You must also be able to demonstrate financial hardship by supplying a Notice of Assessment from the last financial year or hold one of the following:

  • A Centrelink issued concession card (such as a Health Care Card)
  • A Department of Veterans’ Affairs (DVA) card (e.g. Gold Repatriation Health card), an EDA (Extreme Disablement Adjustment) or a TPI (Totally and Permanently Incapacitated) notation.

Passengers who require the use of a wheelchair are permanently exempt from the financial hardship test.

Note that the NDIS may change how these taxi subsidy programs are run. Visit the NDIS Transport Funding page for current information.

Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS)

Your Health Care Card can also help you pay less for medications.

The Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme Schedule lists all of the medications available on prescription to patients at a government-subsidised price. The Scheme is available to all Australian residents who hold a current Medicare card.

Instead of paying the actual cost of PBS-listed medications, most people only have to pay a small co-payment of less than $50. For HCC holders, the co-payment is less than $10. (The co-payment amounts are updated each year.)

The PBS Safety Net reduces the cost of prescription medicines for individuals and families once the PBS Safety Net threshold has been reached.

Once you reach the threshold, you will need to apply for a PBS Safety Net Card through your pharmacist. General patients will then pay less than $10 per script while concession card holders will receive their prescription medications for free for the rest of the calendar year.

Medical Cooling Concessions

This is another financial benefit that many people don’t know about. Again, you’ll need a HCC or similar concession card to help you qualify.

All Centrelink concession card holders can receive an ongoing discount off their household energy bill. However, those with a chronic illness that affects their ability to regulate body temperature may be eligible for an additional summer electricity bill discount. In Victoria, this is known as the Medical Cooling Concession. The name of the concession and the eligibility requirements differ from state to state.

Diagnosed medical conditions that may be recognised by your state include fibromyalgia, lymphoedema and multiple sclerosis. You must provide a report from your treating doctor with your application.

Contact your energy supplier or state department of health via the links below for more information.

Other state government concessions

Each state or territory government may also offer their own payments and benefits for those holding current Centrelink pension or concession cards. You can learn more about these through your respective Australian state or territory government website.

Finally, when asking your doctor to complete medical reports for applications like these, always get them to base it on your worst days. For example, during a bad flare up.

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