Australian Health Care Card Benefits and Eligibility

Published: February 14, 2019

When living on a restricted income or pension, you might be wondering what else you can do to save money. If you receive a Centrelink payment or earn a low income, you may be eligible for a government health care card, which you can use to reduce the cost medications and medical services.

In this article, we’ll focus on the different types of health care cards you might qualify for and the benefits you can expect to receive.

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What is a health care card?

The Australian Government issues specific groups of people, such as pensioners and low-income households, with health care cards (HHC) that generally entitles you to certain concessions, which may also be available to your partner and dependent children. For example, cheaper medications and medical services.

Health care card benefits

Depending on the state you live in and which concession card you have, you and in some cases your partner and/or dependent children might benefit from:

  • Lower payments for prescription medications listed under the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS).
  • Bulk billing for some general practitioner appointments.
  • More refunds for medical expenses through your Medicare Safety Net.
  • An increase in benefits for out-of-pocket general treatments and services received outside of the hospital.
  • Assistance with certain hearing devices and services.

Other concessions you might also qualify for, depending on your state, territory governments and local councils, include:

  • Discounts on dental and eye care.
  • Free or reduced emergency ambulance services.
  • Public transport
  • Energy and electricity.

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Different types of health care cards available in Australia

The type of card you are eligible for depends on your unique situation. Each card type has its specific entitlements and limits. Be sure to carefully review the details of each HHC on humanservices.gov.au.

Commonwealth Seniors Health Card

Older Australians who are pension age and do not receive an income support payment from the Australian Government or Department of Veterans' Affairs may qualify for this card, with which you can get cheaper medication and medical services.

Pensioner Concession Card (PPC)

As a PPC holder, you can typically get discounted medical services funded by the Australian Government and cheaper medicine through the PBS. Your partner and dependent children might also be able to benefit. This card is usually valid for 2 years, after which you will generally receive a new card on your birthday.

Low Income Health Care Card

These cards are typically available to Australian residents that earn an income below the limit as assessed on an 8-week period before you submit your claim.

Family dynamic Weekly income Income within 8-week period
Single without children $556 $4,448
Single with 1 dependent child $960 $7,680
Couple without children $960 $7,680
Couple with 1 child $994 $7,950
For each extra child, add $34 $272
Source: Australian Government Department of Human Services (February 2019)

The total income that gets assessed generally includes your:

  • Wages/salary and self-employment income.
  • Superannuation contributions, salary sacrifice.
  • Fringe benefits received from your employer.
  • Centrelink pensions and benefits.
  • Paid parental leave.
  • Department of Veterans’ Affairs payments.
  • Rental income.
  • Private trusts and companies.
  • Foreign income.
  • Income generated from financial investments.
  • Deemed income from account-based income streams.
  • Lump sum payments received for redundancy, leave, compensation or termination.

Ex-Carer Allowance (Child) Health Care Card

This HHC is generally available to Australians between 16 and 25 years old, that study full time and received a Carer Allowance HCC before their 16th birthday. You will usually receive a letter to renew your card before it’s expiry date.

Foster Child Health Care Card

This type of card is for people caring for a foster child so that the child can have access to the PBS concessions and medical services funded by the Australian Government. Such a card will be issued in the child's name and sent out every 6 months, depending on the foster care arrangements.

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Health care card eligibility

You may qualify for an HHC if you fall into one of the groups above or live in Australia and meet the residency rules, while also receiving one or more of the below support payments or supplements from the Australian Government, including:

  • Newstart Allowance: A support payment received when you’re unemployed and looking for work.
  • Special Benefit: Unable to support yourself and your family because of severe financial hardship that’s beyond your control and you’re not receiving any other income support from Centrelink.
  • Parenting Payment partnered: When your income is under the limits, and you are the principal carer for a child under the age of 8, if you're single, or under 6 years old, when you share responsibilities with a partner.
  • Partner Allowance: Availability stopped 20 September 2003.
  • Age Pension: If you’ve been an Australian resident for over 10 years and you’re under the income and asset test limits and have reached pension age, you might be eligible for this income support benefit.
  • Disability Support Pension: Australian residents between the ages of 16 and pension age that meet the income and asset test limits might receive financial assistance if you can't work because you have a permanent physical, intellectual or psychiatric condition.
  • Sickness Allowance: You might receive a support payment when you're unable to work or study, as an ABSTUDY or Austudy full-time student, for a period because of an injury, illness or disability.
  • Carer Payment: If you’re under the pension income and asset test limits and provide constant care to an adult that is frail and old or someone with a severe disability, or illness, you might qualify for income support.
  • Carer Allowance: This is an additional fortnightly payment you might be eligible for if you give extra care to someone who has a severe illness, disability or is of frail age for at least 12 months or the rest of their lives.
  • Widow Allowance: If you have little to no recent work experience and were born on or before 1 July 1955 and have been widowed, divorced or separated since you were 40 years old, you might receive support payments. However, this allowance has been closed for new claims since 1 July 2018.
  • ABSTUDY living allowance: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians that are studying or training away from home may receive an ABSTUDY Living Allowance.
  • Austudy: When 25 or older and full-time student in an approved course or Australian Apprenticeship, you might receive financial help hen under the income limit.
  • Youth Allowance: Should you be 21 or younger and looking for work, or 24 and younger and a student or Australian Apprentice you might be eligible for financial assistance.

How to apply for a health care card

To get a health care card in Australia you need to visit the Australian Government Department of Human Services website and sign-up to the myGov account, which you can then link to your Centrelink online account. Once you’re logged into myGov, select Centrelink and follow the steps. After that, when you want to claim, simply go to myGov and return the correct claim forms and supporting documents. 

Be sure to review the criteria of each health card you think you might qualify for on humanservices.gov.au before applying.

Do you need private health insurance when you have a health care card?

Whether private health cover will benefit you or not depends on your unique requirements and the state you live in. Although health care cards may provide you with cheaper medicines and certain medical services, you might still need treatments and services that are not covered by Medicare and would thus be out-of-pocket expenses. For example, physiotherapy, private hospital accommodation and podiatry.

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