In 2008, the Commonwealth Government passed laws to recognise same-sex couples and their children. Commencing between January and July 2009, these changes include allowing same-sex families to receive the same Medicare and PBS entitlements as opposite-sex families and changes to the aged care income and assets tests.
What has changed?
Medicare Safety Net
Previously, same‑sex couples and their children could not access the Medicare Safety Net as a family.
Under the Medicare system, visits to your doctor or medical tests may cost you less once your costs for a year reach the Medicare Safety Net threshold. Individuals, families with children and couples are all eligible for the same threshold amounts (which can vary according to whether you are eligible for other concessions). If you register for the Medicare Safety Net as a family or couple, the medical costs of the adults and children registered are combined so it is easier to reach the threshold.
Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) Safety Net
Until recently, same-couples could not access the PBS Safety Net as a family.
The PBS Safety Net assists people who need to spend a lot of money on medicines. Once your expenditure on medicines reaches the PBS Safety Net threshold, the cost of any further PBS medicines you buy is reduced for the rest of that calendar year. The amount of the PBS Safety Net threshold is different for general patients and patients who hold concession cards.
As with the Medicare Safety Net, the PBS Safety Net threshold is applied at the same level to an individual, a couple or a family with children. If you are in a couple or have dependent children the cost of your medicines is combined so it is easier to reach the threshold.
From 1 January 2009, same-sex de facto couples and their children can access the PBS Safety Net as a family.
When people enter an aged care facility, they are required to pay a number of different fees and other payments for their care and accommodation. The amount of these payments is based on a person’s income and assets. An income test is used to determine what amount of fee is required (if any) and an assets test is applied to determine whether a person is eligible to pay an accommodation charge or bond.
Currently, a person going into aged care who is in a same-sex relationship is treated as a single person. This means that their partner’s income and assets are disregarded for the purpose of determining fees and other payments for care and accommodation. If their partner is still living in the couple’s home, all, part, or none of the value of the home might be included in the assessment of assets. In worst case scenarios, this could result in a partner being forced to sell the family home to pay for their partner’s aged care.
From 1 July 2009, same-sex de facto couples will be treated the same as opposite-sex couples in relation to aged care. This means that a member of a same-sex de facto couple going into aged care will be assessed as having half of the total value of the couple’s income and assets. If the person’s partner (or dependant child) is still living in their home, it will be excluded from the assets assessment.
The exclusion of the couple’s home from the assets test could result in some aged care residents paying lower accommodation charges. However, the inclusion of a partner’s income in the income test could result in lower fees for some current and future aged care residents and higher fees for others.
The Federal Government has indicated that, generally, accommodation bonds and charges for members of same-sex couples who enter care before 1 July 2009 will not be affected by the reforms. However, if a person moves to a different aged care facility after 1 July 2009, they might have another assets assessment, which could affect the amount of their charge or bond.
Where can I get more information?
- For more information in relation to the Medicare safety net contact Medicare Australia on 132 011 or visit the www.medicareaustralia.gov.au.
- For more information in relation to the PBS safety net contact the PBS Information Line on 1800 020 613.
- For more information on aged care reforms contact the Aged Care Information Line on 1800 500 853.
- See also: De facto relationships: Am I a de facto partner?