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We all know that our health starts to decline as we get older, and affording healthcare in retirement is a concern many Australians have. Fortunately, you may have access to the Commonwealth Seniors Health Card (CSHC) to help with some healthcare expenses in Australia.

Let’s explore how the CSHC can benefit you, who can get it, and how it can work with private health insurance to help you reduce your healthcare expenses.

What is the Commonwealth Seniors Health Card?

The Commonwealth Seniors Health Card (CSHC) is a senior’s health care card supplied by the Federal Government through Centrelink. It helps discount the cost of some prescription medications and provides access to bulk-billed doctors, plus additional concessions from local and state governments, such as cheaper public transport.

You’ll need to meet some eligibility criteria to receive a CSHC, like being over a certain age and earning income under a set annual threshold.

Who’s eligible for the CSHC?

You can apply for the CSHC if you meet the following criteria:

  • you’ve hit the Age Pension age;
  • you aren’t receiving payments from the Department of Veteran’s Affairs or Centrelink;
  • you’re an Australian citizen or permanent resident living within Australia; and
  • your annual income falls under the CSHC income test (which we touch on a little later).1

What are the benefits of the CSHC?

The CSHC provides a range of benefits for cardholders when it comes to medical costs that become more common in our golden years:

  • you’ll receive concession rates for medications listed under the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS). The PBS caps the price of certain medicines to make them more affordable for Australians. If you hold a concession card, this cap is lower on prescriptions. As of 1 January 2021, you won’t pay more than $6.60 for a PBS prescription if you use a CSHC or other eligible concession cards;2
  • general practitioners who don’t typically bulk bill might do so if you hold a CSHC; and
  • having a CSHC provides access to greater perks under the Medicare Safety Net and PBS Safety Net, which help keep annual costs low for medications and some healthcare services like GP visits, blood tests and x-rays. These safety nets are handy if you take lots of prescriptions or make regular trips to the doctor.

an older woman taking pills from a bottle

Medicare and Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) Safety Nets

If you need to see a doctor or specialist and take prescription medications regularly, you could benefit from the Medicare and PBS Safety Nets. Both safety nets work slightly differently.

Here’s how.

The Medicare Safety Net

The Medicare Safety Net is a government-funded scheme that increases your Medicare rebate for eligible out-of-hospital medical expenses if you’ve hit a certain spending threshold in a calendar year.

If you have a CSHC, the Medicare Safety Net can offer a higher reimbursement from Medicare if your expenses for medical treatment exceed certain thresholds in the calendar year.

Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) Safety Net

As a CSHC holder, you’re not only eligible for concession prices on medications under the PBS, but you’re also placed on the PBS Safety Net. So, if you spend over a set amount within a year on PBS medicines ($316.80 for concession patients in 2020),3 you’ll then receive all subsequent PBS prescriptions for free for the rest of the calendar year.

Bear in mind that there might be different brands of the same medication, and more expensive brands typically aren’t covered under the PBS or the PBS Safety Net. To find out if a prescription is listed on the PBS, you can consult your GP or visit the PBS website and search online.

If the medication isn’t covered by the PBS and is more expensive than the capped PBS price, an extras policy with pharmaceuticals cover may help you claim back some of the cost.

The PBS Safety Net threshold typically changes on 1 January each year.

 

How does my income affect my eligibility for a CSHC?

To receive a CSHC, your adjusted taxable income and deemed income* must fall under set thresholds:

Income test for Commonwealth Seniors Health Card for 2020 (up to 20 September 2020)
RelationshipAnnual income
Single$55,808
Couples$89,290
Couples separated by illness, prison or respite care$111,616
Source: Commonwealth Seniors Health Card: Income test. Department of Human Services, Australian Government. 2019.

Adjusted taxable income includes:

  • taxable income
  • income from overseas
  • reportable contributions to your superannuation
  • tax-exempt foreign income
  • reportable fringe benefits
  • total net investment losses.4

Deemed income refers to income you earn through assets like savings accounts, investments, shares and term deposits.5

The income test is reviewed on 20 September annually.

If you have children in your care, your annual income threshold increases by a set amount for each child (currently $639.60).6

Is there an asset test for the CSHC?

No, there’s no asset test for the CSHC, only an income test.7 An asset test includes real estate, any payment made for residing in a retirement village, superannuation investments, vehicles, personal belongings and investments like term deposits.

Asset tests are used by the Australian Government when calculating your pension payment (should you be eligible), as it helps provide a broad picture of your wealth and your ability to support yourself should you need to fall back on selling assets.

Does the CSHC cover service that Medicare doesn’t?

No, the CSHC doesn’t provide any benefit for services that aren’t covered by Medicare. Neither does private hospital cover – which works in conjunction with Medicare to help subsidise the cost of private hospital care. However, private health insurance can help pay for a range of costs that the CHSC doesn’t cover.

For example, private hospital cover helps you:

  • avoid public waiting lists for elective surgeries;
  • be seen by a doctor you choose;* and
  • recover in a private room.*

*Subject to availability.

Extras cover can be used for a range of out-of-hospital services Medicare doesn’t subsidise, such as physiotherapy, dental and optometry needs.

an older woman has a younger female visitor in hospital

To help reduce the cost of private health insurance for older Australians, the private health insurance rebate increases as we age. You can receive this rebate as a discount on insurance premiums or as a tax benefit when filling out your tax return.

Frequently asked questions

What's Australia's retirement age?

The Age Pension age, or retirement age, is the age where you can claim the Age Pension (subject to your eligibility which is based on age and the asset test), and the CSHC uses the retirement age when establishing eligibility. Your retirement age depends on when you were born.
To discover more about the CSHC eligibility requirements, you can visit the Department of Social Service’s guide.

Birth yearNew pension ageDate of implementation
1 July 1952 – 31 December 195365 years and six months1 July 2017
1 January 1954 – 30 June 195566 years1 July 2019
1 July 1955 – 31 December 195666 years and six months1 July 2021
1 July 1957 and onwards67 years1 July 2023
Source: Age Pension. Department of Human Services, Australian Government. 2019.

You can read more about the Age Pension’s eligibility requirements on the Department of Social Services’ webpage.

How do I apply for the CSHC?

There are two ways you can make a healthcare card application for the CSHC. You can:

  1. visit a local Centrelink branch to begin your claim; or
  2. go online through a myGov account that’s linked to Centrelink.

You can view the Department of Human Services guide to lodging a CSHC claim here to learn more about claiming a CSHC.

Is the CSHC the same as the Pension Concession Card?

No, the CSHC is not the same as the Pension Concession Card, although they’re both provided by Centrelink and grant similar benefits such as cheaper medicine, health care and additional discounts.

The Pension Concession Card is available to Australians receiving the aged pension from the government, while the CSHC is for Aussies who do not receive a pension or hold a pension concession card.

Does the CSHC give me discounts on energy bills or public transport?

Yes, if you hold a CSHC, you may receive discounts on several other costs, though these differ between states and local council areas. You could receive discounts for:

  • energy bills
  • property rates
  • water charges
  • public transport
  • ambulance costs
  • dental and eye care.8
If my details change, do I need a new CSHC?

Should your personal details change, such as your relationship status, address or income, then you’ll need to contact Centrelink to update your details.

Comparing health insurance for your senior years

Want extra cover as you enter the golden years? While the CSHC can give you a further discount on eligible healthcare services, it can’t help you avoid public waiting lists for elective surgery, choose your doctor or cover care in a private hospital.

Those things are covered by private hospital cover.

To help older Australians pay for private health insurance, which takes pressure of the public system, the Australian Government Private Health Insurance Rebate (which helps discount your policy) increases as you age.

Considering private cover? Comparing health insurance policies available through our free health insurance comparison tool is easy. It can help you compare a number of policies based on what they cover, their excess payments, and any other policy features in minutes – saving you time so you can focus on enjoying your retirement.

Sources

1 Commonwealth Seniors Health Card: Who can get it. Department of Human Services, Australian Government. 2019.

2 About the PBS. The Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme, Department of Health, Australian Government. 2019.

3 Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme: PBS Safety Net thresholds. Department of Human Services, Australian Government. 2021.

4 Commonwealth Seniors Health Card: Income test. Department of Human Services, Australian Government. 2019.

5 Deeming. Department of Human Services, Australian Government. 2019.

6 Commonwealth Seniors Health Card: Income test. Department of Human Services, Australian Government. 2019.

7 Commonwealth Seniors Health Card: Income test. Department of Human Services, Australian Government. 2019.

8 Commonwealth Seniors Health Card: Benefits. Department of Human Services, Australian Government. 2019.

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