Denys McKelson, 78, says he’s “lucky enough to have his caravan to sleep in”, but covering the costs of Rapid Antigen Tests (RATs) on his pension income is now out of reach.
“My thoughts are purely, ‘How far is the pension supposed to stretch?’,” Mr McKelson asks.
He worked until the age of 70 and now lives in his van, currently parked at his daughter’s house in Brisbane.
“With COVID very active, why are pensioners no longer able to get the RAT kits for free with our pension card?
“Cost of living is going up. I buy the exact same food items, and I get much less for my money these days. Vulnerable people are not going to have the money to spend on RATs,” he says.
Mr McKelson is referring to the federal government’s move to end concessional access to RATs at the end of July.
Under the scheme, concession card holders — including those with a Pensioner Concession Card, Low Income Health Care Card or Seniors Card — could access up to 10 free RATs over three months from pharmacies.
In announcing the end of the scheme last month, Health and Aged Care Minister Mark Butler said the prices of RATs had “come down dramatically”.
“The concessional RAT program was set up a time when it was borderline impossible to obtain RATs and those who were lucky enough were paying close to $30,” a spokesperson for minister said.
They’re now down to around $8 to test.
The spokesperson said the former government and state governments designed this program to end on 31 July.
‘Significant cost if you’re not affluent’
Andrea Lindsay says she is in good health and lives in a good location.
“For anyone that isn’t fairly affluent, the cost [of RATs] is quite significant. It’s just not going to encourage people to be careful,” she says.
Ms Lindsay volunteers at a plant nursery as well as an op shop with other seniors in Melbourne.
“I won’t be doing these things, volunteering, if I can’t be confident about keeping people safe,” she says.
She, too, has noticed the hit from the free RAT test scheme ending at the end of July.
“If we want to encourage people to be active in the community and be responsible, [access to RATs] better be made easier.
“And pensioners aren’t the only ones [who] are in a low-income group.”
Council on the Aging (COTA) Australia chief executive Ian Yates said his organization would have preferred the federally-funded free RAT scheme for concession cardholders to continue.
“Pensioners don’t need a financial barrier to test at the same time as the costs of living are rising on many basic goods, including food,” he said.
He added that the Commonwealth’s withdrawal had largely been covered because most states now have free RAT schemes in place.
“[That] demonstrates the need for this support. Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) tests are also free in all jurisdictions and the Commonwealth is still providing them free for visitors to aged care facilities.”
Where can I find a free RAT kit in my state?
Yes, there are still ways people, including pensioners, can access free COVID-19 tests.
Here is the latest information on finding a free RAT kithopefully, located near you.
- queensland: You can get free RAT kits at Queensland Health’s RAT distribution points, which are listed here, if you hold an eligible Commonwealth Concession card. You can get up to five RAT kits per month and collect up to three months’ supply during a single visit if you hold an eligible concession card.
- NSW: Free RATs are available for priority cohorts in NSW at any one of the following 200 neighborhood and community centers across the state, which can be found here. Eligible people include:
- people with disability, immunocompromised people, and their carers
- Commonwealth Concession Card holders from NSW
- Pensioner Concession Card holders
- Commonwealth Seniors Health Care Card holders
- Health Care Card (including Low Income Health Care Card) holders
- Department of Veterans’ Affairs Gold, White or Orange Card holders.
- Victory: Free RAT tests to eligible Victorians with disability can continue to access 20 free rapid antigen tests per visit from state-run testing sites and from Disability Liaison Officers, with the program to run until the end of September. To find out which testing sites have rapid antigen tests, visit here.
- More information about Disability Liaison Officers is available on the vaccination for people with disability or special requirements page, here.
- WA: A list of locations of where you can get free RATs is available here.
- NT: Free RATs are available from a number of participating GP clinics, remote and urban primary health clinics and Aboriginal health clinics across the Northern Territory, listed here.
- However, the NT government health site states supplies are provided for immediate use only and large supplies for future use are not provided.
- SA: If you are a close contact with no COVID-19 symptoms, you can access free RAT kits from RAT Collection Points across the state. You must register before collecting your kits, and you can locate this here.
- Tasmanian: Service Tasmania centers are collection points for free RATS for concession card holders. There are 27 centers located around the state, to find your nearest center call 1300 13 55 13 or visit the website here.
- Or from your nearest respiratory clinics: People can still access free RATs from one of the 129 national respiratory clinics across the country, which you can locate here.