Published by The Border Watch
By Raquel Mustillo
CHANGES to South Australian's Patient Assistance Transport Scheme (PATS) do not go far enough Member for Mount Gambier Troy Bell says, with the independent MP calling for an increase to the $40 a night accommodation subsidy.
As part of the State Government's reform of the scheme, which subsidises travel and accommodation costs to individuals who need to travel more than 100km to see medical specialists, the eligibility criteria has been expanded to allow Airbnb accommodation or similar platforms a commercial subsidy.
From Monday, patients eligible for a PATS subsidy will be reimbursed for the actual distance they travel to their treatment locations, rather than reimbursed for the distance travelled to the Adelaide GPO.
Eligible family members or carers who travel separately to a patient in an emergency situation will now be subsidised.
But Mr Bell said an increase to the cost of reimbursement on kilometres and accommodation was needed to ensure a fairer and more efficient system for regional Australians.
Currently, South Australians are reimbursed 16 cents per kilometre and pay $40 a night for accommodation.
"I challenge anyone to travel to Adelaide and stay overnight at those prices," he said.
"I'd say a fair and reasonable subsidy for accommodation is $100 per night, while the Australian Tax Office states the average rate for travel is 72 cents a kilometre." Mr Bell said elderly residents needing to go to Adelaide for specialist appointments were undertaking the 900km in a day because they could not afford to stay overnight.
"It's a long stint on the road and it is quite dangerous," he said.
"Statistics show the Limestone Coast are by region, the biggest users of PATS in South Australia." People should not be penalised for where they choose to live, so either increase the rebate or invest in more specialist services for the regions.
"It is time for PATS to be brought up to date to reflect the changing times in which we live." A review of the scheme was announced following a PATS forum in February 2019 which was held by Mr Bell and attended by more than 100 Mount Gambier residents.
Health Minister Stephen Wade said the State Government had inherited an unfair patient transport scheme "typical of the former Labor Government's neglect of regional South Australians", but did not say whether changes to the accommodation and fuel subsidy would be considered.
"Since the election, we have already undertaken two waves of reform bringing significant benefits for people right across the state," he said.
"These improvements have come about from listening to regional South Australians about how we can best support them to get the health care they need - and we will continue to work with them on future improvements.
"While it is important to improve the PATS scheme, the Marshall Government is working hard to build better healthcare, closer to home, for regional South Australians." Mr Wade said the government had invested $10m in the Cancer Council's new accommodation hub to support country patients who are required to travel to Adelaide for medical treatment.
He also said the government was investing significantly in healthcare facilities in the Limestone Coast, including the new renal unit for Mount Gambier Hospital and a $1m upgrade to Lighthouse Lodge, co-located with Kingston Soldiers' Memorial Hospital.