Subsidy Call Falls on Deaf Ears

Wednesday March 20, 2024

A motion put forward by the Member for Mount Gambier Troy Bell requesting to increase the accommodation allowance and all subsidies to be tied to consumer price index (CPI) for the patient assistance transport scheme (PATS) has flopped.

Mr Bell spoke to the motion in Parliament last week as part of his continued 10-year advocacy for the increase in PATS after more than 13,000 South Australians used the service last year.

He said while improvements had been made in recent years - including doubling of the fuel subsidy - he believed from communication with the public it was not enough.

In order to be eligible for PATS, patients must be a permanent South Australian resident, be enrolled in Medicare and receive treatment claimable through the service.

They must not receive or be eligible for financial assistance for travel through another provider or have claimed any available benefits from a private health fund first.

The appointment must also be received from the nearest recognised medical specialist with the patient travelling more than 100 kilometres.

PATS now provides 32 cents per kilometre travelled by private vehicle and provides up to $44 per night per person in commercial accommodation.

Mr Bell acknowledged the increase in fuel subsidies which was introduced last year, yet noted it was two decades since the previous increase.

"The last significant independent review into PATS was conducted in 2013 by Dr David Filby," Mr Bell said.

"Some of the main themes to come from the numerous letters and submissions at the time were the need for increased fuel and accommodation subsidy, the administration of PATS claims, the lack of provision for escorts and carers and the need for expanded coverage of services.

"I would argue those themes are still very relevant today." Mr Bell also noted while the increase of the PATS fuel scheme had increased by 100 per cent, the increase in fuel costs was 120 per cent.

"We could argue South Australians are getting less today than they did in 2001," he said.

"That is why I state there must be an inclusion in the PAT Scheme which allows for annual CPI indexation." Mr Bell said this issue became "even more apparent" when observing accommodation costs.

"It has been 10 years since the accommodation subsidy was last increased, from $33 to $44 per night, the lowest rate anywhere in Australia," he said.

"A quick search of Adelaide's accommodation will show that $44 does not get you very far, maybe a tent somewhere.

"In comparison, New South Wales residents receive $75 per night for the first seven nights, which then increases to $120 per night from night eight onwards." He said New South Wales also provided a $40 per night subsidy for those staying in private accommodation.

"We also need to highlight that South Australia is the only state which requires residents - unless they hold a healthcare card or are pensioners - to pay for the first night's accommodation themselves," Mr Bell said.

Noting Mount Gambier/Berrin was about a five-hour drive from Adelaide, Mr Bell said he was often contacted by local residents who made day trips to appointments to avoid paying for accommodation - something which could turn into 14-hour journeys.

"At a time when our road toll is higher than it ever has been and we are constantly pushing the road safety message, we should be doing everything we can to encourage safe driving," he said.

"It needs to be remembered that a lot of the people accessing the PATS are in their 80s and beyond and I do not think 14 hours on the road is a safe practice." Mr Bell told the chamber of a number of local residents who had experienced trouble accessing PATS rebates before claiming the "bureaucracy and red tape" around navigating the scheme was "at best frustrating" and "at its worst.dangerous".

"We are finding ourselves in a situation where people are not undergoing medical treatment as they cannot afford to do so or they are unable to navigate the often complicated processes of submitting a PATS claim," Mr Bell said.

"Patients using this scheme are doing so because they cannot access the services locally, they do not have the ability to return to the comfort of their own home at the end of a day of treatment in Adelaide.

"They are often in a motel room worrying about the financial implications of accommodation, travel and time off work when they really need to be focusing and should be focusing on recovery." Member for Elizabeth Lee Odenwalder acknowledged the motion yet made an amendment, calling on the State Government to "continue to review further improvements" to the scheme over time.

Shadow Minister for Regional Health Penny Pratt supported Mr Bell's original motion alongside Adrian Pederick, Fraser Ellis, Tim Whetstone and Sam Telfer.

Member for Giles Eddie Hughes supported the amendment which passed 20-15.