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If you don’t qualify for a government payment when you retire, it can seem like there isn’t much help available when it comes to your living expenses.
But many people overlook just what the Commonwealth Seniors Health Card (CSHC) can provide. If you’re eligible, this concession card gives you access to cheaper health care, medications and, potentially, government services.
So, what is the CSHC and how do you get your hands on one?
What’s the CSHC and what benefits does it provide?
The CSHC is a concessional card that allows you to get cheaper health care and some discounts if you’ve reached Age Pension age. If you’re eligible, the benefits include:
- Cheaper prescription medicines – Medicines listed under the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) are subsidised by the federal government.
- Bulk-billed doctor visits – This is at the discretion of the doctor you choose.
- Access to the Extended Medicate Safety Net (EMSN) Concessional benefit – This gives you a better Medicare refund for any out-of-hospital costs during a calendar year. The threshold amount for out-of-pocket hospital costs is currently $680.70. If you exceed this, you’ll be refunded 80% of the amount, or the EMSN benefit caps. For more information, check out the Department of Human Services (DHS) website here.
- Additional concessions from state and local governments – Depending on where you live, these concessions can lower your electricity and gas bills, property and water rates, and public transport fares. For more information, check what you can get where you live at www.australia.gov.au.
- Access to an Energy Supplement – Some long-term CSHC holders can receive assistance with energy costs.
Need to know
The CSHC is not the same as a Health Care Card or a Low-Income Health Care Card, even though these concession cards are also issued by the Department of Human Services (DHS). These cards have different eligibility requirements and income tests to the CSHC.
How do I qualify for a CSHC?
To qualify, you must:
1. Have reached your Age Pension eligibility age
Your Age Pension age depends on your date of birth. It is currently 66 years, but is progressively being increased to age 67 for all Australians from 1 July 2023.
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2. Not qualify for any payment from the Department of Human Services or Department of Veterans’ Affairs (DVA)
This means you can’t be entitled to receive an Age or DVA Pension.
3. Live in Australia and meet the residence rules
You must be living in Australia when you claim a CSHC and must be an Australian citizen, hold a permanent visa, or hold a Special Category Visa as a New Zealand citizen living in Australia.
4. Be under the annual CSHC income threshold
The CSHC income threshold is different to the Age Pension income test. The CSHC income threshold is not affected by your assets (like your family home).
Need to know
Eligibility for a CSHC is only for the current year. You must continue to meet the eligibility requirements to retain the card. If you don’t, you will become ineligible and lose your card.
A CSHC is automatically renewed by the Department of Human Services (DHS) each year if you continue to satisfy all the eligibility requirements.
What’s included in the income test?
The income test for the Commonwealth Seniors Health Card (CSHC) is reviewed on 20 September each year in line with the Consumer Price Index (CPI). In assessing your income, the DHS includes:
1. Your adjusted taxable income
For the CSHC income test, your adjusted taxable income includes your taxable income plus any additional income including:
- foreign income (including money from foreign businesses or investments)
- tax-exempt foreign income
- total net investment losses (including net losses from rental property income or a financial investment)
- reportable fringe benefits from your employer (including help to pay your rent or home loan, mobile phone, school fees, car, child care expenses or health insurance premiums)
- reportable superannuation contributions (including salary sacrifice or personal contributions claimed as a tax deduction)
- some tax-free pensions or benefits (including those from Centrelink and DVA such as the Disability Support Pension, Carer Payment and Wife Pension)
- state government payments.
2. Deemed amounts from account-based income streams
Under deeming rules, you’re assumed to be earning a set rate of return on your investments, regardless of whether you are or not. These investments include savings accounts, term deposits, investments and shares.
The DHS deems income from any account-based income streams when it calculates your income for CSHC eligibility. The balance of the account-based income stream is subject to deeming if:
- you purchased or changed the income stream on or after 1 January 2015
- you own the income stream and received a CSHC after 31 December 2014
- your partner owns the income steam and is aged 60 or over.
3. Your partner’s income
If you have a partner, their income can also affect your adjusted taxable income.
CSHC income thresholds: What are the current limits?
Between 20 September 2019 and 19 September 2020, you must earn no more than the following to be eligible for a CSHC:
Maximum income threshold for CSHC eligibility
Couples separated by illness, respite care or prison
Source: Department of Human Services (DHS)
If you have any children still in your care, $639.60 can be added to each threshold for each child.
Need to know
If you exceed the CSHC income threshold for a given year, you are not entitled to a Commonwealth Seniors Health Card during that year. If your income changes, you may be eligible in a subsequent year.
A CSHC only covers one person. If your partner is eligible for a card, they must submit their own online application.
If you use a paper application form, you can both apply for a card on the same form.
How do I apply for the CSHC?
You can apply for a card from the Department of Human Services (via Centrelink) once you’ve reached your Age Pension eligibility age. You can:
- Apply online: You will need a myGov account linked to Centrelink. You may need to confirm your identify before you can apply.
- Complete a claim form: Click here to download the CSHC application form.
- Call DHS: Phone the Older Australians line on 132 300.
- Go to a service centre: Check for your closest centre here.
You will need to provide a range of supporting documents with your CSHC application. These may include:
- Financial documents: Tax file number; superannuation, investment and bank details; and income tax returns.
- Relationship documents: Partner details including work and income details.
- Residence documents: If you lived outside Australia, these may include visa, date of Australian citizenship and date living in other countries.
If you submit your application for a CSHC online, you can track its progress. The DHS will inform you of the result of your application via your myGov inbox, Centrelink online account or via normal mail.
Good to know
Each state and territory has a Seniors Card it issues to residents, but this does not affect your eligibility for a CSHC.
For more information, read SuperGuide article Your simple guide to state Seniors Cards: How they can save you money.
What if my circumstances change?
Like all government benefits, you need to keep Centrelink informed when things alter in your life.
CSHC holders must notify Centrelink within 14 days if any of the following occur:
- Your (or your partner’s) income changes and is likely to exceed the income test threshold.
- You (or your partner) purchase an account-based income stream.
- You (or your partner) are granted a government benefit or pension from the DVA.
- Your living arrangements change (such as you no longer live as a couple or a single, or vice versa.)
- You travel overseas for more than six weeks.
- You move permanently overseas.
Does the CSHC replace private health insurance?
Holding a CSHC doesn’t mean you can forget private health insurance.
Although it provides some benefits when it comes to pharmaceuticals, visits to the doctor and additional refunds under the Extended Medicare Safety Net, it’s not a replacement for private health insurance.
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