Queensland Coalition MP Andrew Laming has suggested that seniors health card holders who "value'' their entitlements should lobby the government against any changes to eligibility criteria for the card.
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Senior health cards in firing line?
Possible changes to the retirement age and the Seniors Health Card are discussed by Andrew Leigh (ALP) and Andrew Laming (Lib).
On Sunday, it was reported that the Audit Commission's interim report, which has not yet been publicly released, has recommended that criteria around income assessment are tightened up.
The Commonwealth Seniors Health Card provides discounts on Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme medicines, GP visits, other medical expenses and an $858 yearly payment. Single seniors currently need a taxable income of less than $50,000 to qualify for the card.
The Audit Commission's first report, delivered to government last month, has questioned the fact that superannuation income is considered tax-free, according to a News Corp report on Sunday. There is also currently no assets test for the card.
On Monday, Dr Laming told Fairfax Media's Breaking Politics program that he was ''completely in the dark'' about what was before government, ''so I can't confirm or deny anything''.
But he argued that any changes to the card could impact upon a ''substantial'' number of people.
''Obviously tinkering with these kind of thresholds do represent significant savings, but any government needs to be mindful that it will affect a substantial amount of people who are right on the threshold and often are least able to be able to afford out of pockets in health care which we know are climbing,'' he said.
Dr Laming added that ''it's pretty important, I think, if people hold their health care cards and value them ... they need to make that very, very clear to government, that they want to keep them''.
On Sunday, Prime Minister Tony Abbott reaffirmed the Coalition's commitment to increasing the income threshold for the seniors health card, but would not be drawn on other changes to the card's eligibility criteria.
In Adelaide, Mr Abbott said the government would release the interim report ''at the right time, not the wrong time''.
''The stress that I want to keep on everything is, we will keep our commitments,'' he said. As part of its 2013 election package, the Coalition pledged to index the current income threshold for the health care card to the consumer price index, ''[to] allow more retirees access to the CSHC and reduce the fear of losing the card''.
''What I want to make absolutely crystal clear is that in the lead-up to the budget we'll see speculation in the media, we'll see more and more scares from [Labor leader] Bill Shorten,'' Mr Abbott added.
Labor spokeswoman for families and payments, Jenny Macklin, called on Mr Abbott to ''clarify his position''.
''Otherwise seniors have every right to think his government will make cuts to the Commonwealth Seniors Health Card," she said in a statement on Monday afternoon.
Ms Macklin pointed out that after a report last month that the Audit Commission had found the Coalition's paid parental leave scheme to be too generous, Mr Abbott ruled out changes to the policy.
"Why won't the Prime Minister give the same certainty to retirees and come clean about his plans for the health card?"
Shadow assistant treasurer Andrew Leigh said Mr Abbott has been ''a little tricky on this one'', arguing that the Prime Minister did not rule out changing the definition of income for the health card.
''That's a live option on the table and I think that will make many Australians concerned,'' Dr Leigh told Breaking Politics.
On Sunday, Labor seized on the reports about potential changes to the card, arguing that the Coalition should release the first Audit Commission report before the South Australian and Tasmanian state elections on March 15 and the West Australian Senate election on April 5.
''It is not appropriate that Tony Abbott and his team have 900 pages of nasty surprises for seniors,'' Labor Leader Bill Shorten said.
National Seniors Australia chief executive Michael O'Neill has said that older Australians accept they need to look at savings to ensure the budget was sustainable, along with the rest of the community. But he too has called on the Coalition to release the report, so proposals could be understood within a broader context.
Australian Medical Association president Steve Hambleton also called for the report's release. ''The whole thing should be released so people can assist the government in making appropriate decisions.''