Let detainees have access to Medicare, experts urge
The Federal Government is facing calls to extend Medicare benefits to thousands of community-based asylum-seekers.
A study has revealed many asylum-seekers who are waiting on the Government to decide whether they can remain in Australia struggle to access health-care services because they are not eligible for subsidised treatment under Medicare.
Researchers from the University of NSW interviewed a small group of community-based asylum-seekers who revealed problems paying for private doctors and medication.
Some had to wait weeks to see a GP and as a result suffered stress, anxiety and a deterioration in their health.
One asylum-seeker who had a history of heart disease stopped taking his blood pressure medication because he could no longer afford to pay for it.
The researchers said while state government policies on providing hospital care to community-based asylum-seekers had improved, the Federal Government should extend Medicare eligibility to widen the availability of health services.
The study was conducted by the research team from the university's Centre for Primary Health Care and Equity and their findings published by the Medical Journal of Australia.
"This is unlikely to add significantly to the cost of the health care system, and would bring Australia's policy into line with that of similar countries," the study reported.
More than 8000 asylum-seekers lodged protection visas in 2009-10.
Most arrived in Australia on valid visas and lived in the community while their applications were processed.
However, while many had a range of health problems, including chronic and infectious diseases as well as psychological problems, they were not eligible for Medicare services.
The Asylum Seeker Assistance Scheme administered by the Australian Red Cross provides some help to community-based asylum-seekers needing to access health services.
But the researchers said not all asylum-seekers were eligible to receive help under the program.
When they interviewed the group of 12 asylum-seekers from South Asia, sub-Saharan Africa, South-East Asia, the Middle East and East Asia, who were now based in NSW, only four were eligible for Medicare.
Those who were ineligible were reluctant to see a doctor because they could not afford the bill. Nurses and doctors also reported negotiating pro-bono care for asylum-seekers was difficult.