Tony Abbott asked to outline proposed seniors card changes

Australian politics: full coverage

Prime Minister Tony Abbott has re-affirmed the Coalition’s commitment to increasing the income threshold for the seniors health card, but will not be drawn on other changes to the card’s eligibility criteria that are reportedly before the federal government.

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 interim 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.

In Adelaide on Sunday, Mr Abbott would not be drawn on the commission’s first report, saying it would be released ”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 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,” Mr Shorten said.

The Opposition Leader said he was alarmed the Abbott government had the conditions of ”self-funded retirees squarely in their sights”.

”I know that self-funded retirees have worked hard all their lives,” he said. ”They don’t get a lot back from the government.”

National Seniors Australia chief executive Michael O’Neill said that older Australians accepted that they needed to look at savings to ensure the budget was sustainable, along with the rest of the community. But he too 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.”

A spokeswoman for Treasurer Joe Hockey said the government was currently considering the ”confidential” recommendations and that the next Audit Commission report was due at the end of March.

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