Lowering Seniors Card Eligibility Age Would Help to Close the Gap

Jan Barham, Greens MP and spokesperson for Aboriginal Affairs, has welcomed the NSW upper house’s passage of a motion calling on the Government to consider a key initiative to close the gap in health outcomes for older Indigenous people.

“This motion called on the NSW Government to consider lowering the eligibility age for the Seniors Card to 45 years for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. I am pleased that the members of the Legislative Council across all parties supported it,” Ms Barham said.

“Making the Seniors Card available earlier is a simple, immediate way that we can ensure Indigenous people have improved access to primary health services. By having Seniors Card entitlements, including concession rates on transport and other discounts, we can help to overcome problems with the accessibility and affordability of health services.”

The motion was passed on National Close the Gap Day, a campaign that aims to eliminate the health inequality between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and other Australians by 2030.

“On average, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people can expect to live more than a decade less than other Australians. Closing this gap requires a range of solutions from governments at all levels. Seniors Card eligibility is one part of the solution,” Ms Barham said.

“The Aboriginal and Community Care Gathering Committee recommended this initiative, and other organisations involved in the health and human service sectors, including NCOSS, support it. This should be a broadly supported and effective reform.”

In its submission on the upcoming budget, NCOSS estimated that lowering the eligibility age would cost approximately $2 million per annum.

Ms Barham noted, “This is an investment worth making, and one that will pay back society as a whole. It will improve the lives of Indigenous people and deliver a more effective allocation of resources.”

“I look forward to the day when Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people share in the expectation of a healthier and longer life.”

Jan Barham motion on Indigenous health inequality, agreed to 21 March 2013:

1. That this House notes that:

(a) Thursday, 21 March 2013 is National Close the Gap Day, a day of recognition that governments must achieve health equality between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and other Australians by 2030,

(b) Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have a life expectancy that is consistently identified as being between 10 and 17 years less than the life expectancy of the general population,

(c) Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people experience disability rates at 2.4 times the general population, and

(d) the NSW Government operates a number of support programs for older people aged 65 and over, where the eligibility age for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people is lowered to 45 years of age, including NSW Home and Community Care Services, assistance under the Older Parent Carer Program and the provision by Housing NSW of accommodation in Seniors Communities.

2. That this House acknowledges the finding of the 2010-11 Australian Medical Association Indigenous Health Report Card that states that “Appropriate access to primary health care can narrow the life expectancy gap, and may also offset some of the harmful health effects of socio-economic disadvantage and inequality.”

3. That this House further acknowledges recommendation 5 of the NSW Aboriginal Community Care Gathering Committee’s Conference Report from 2006 which states that:

“Eligibility for the NSW Seniors Card should be extended to include Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people from the age of 45 years.”

4. That this House also acknowledges the NSW Aboriginal Community Care Gathering Committee’s Policy Position ratified in June 2011, specifically noting:

(a) Guiding Principle #8: “In acknowledging that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have a reduced life expectancy compared to other people in Australia, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people must be eligible for aged care and other seniors’ services from the age 45 years. Until life expectancies for all are similar, eligibility from age 45 years for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people would ensure that they equitably receive the very necessary support services and other benefits afforded to other older people in Australia.”

(b) Recommendation 5: All programs providing support and other services to older people must ensure that the age criteria for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people start at 45 years.

(c) Recommendation 6: Aged Care Assessments must be available for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people from age 45 years if necessary, not 50 years.

(d) Recommendation 7: The NSW Seniors Card must be available to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people from age 45 years.

5. That this House calls on the State Government to consider lowering the eligibility age for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to be entitled to receive the NSW State Seniors Card to 45 years of age and for this new eligibility age to come into effect from July 1st 2013.