Refugee Council of Australia
Charcoal drawing of open hands

With empty hands: How the Australian Government is forcing people seeking asylum into destitution

Renewing Medicare and cost of healthcare

Access to health care is a big issue at both Medicare and IHMS levels, for example Medicare refusing to renew Medicare cards, refusing to complete VEVO [Visa Entitlement Verification Online] checks when they have the capacity to do so and even sometimes hanging up the phone on us and refusing to talk to caseworkers.

—Damien, SRSS service provider, Sydney

While the current policy is that most people with a bridging visa E have access to Medicare, in practice many find it difficult to have access to uninterrupted healthcare.

The most significant challenge is for people on short bridging visas, as they must apply for a new Medicare card every time they get a new visa. People need to go to a Medicare office to renew their Medicare cards as they have to be seen before a new card is issued. At times, they are not given an interim Medicare number and have to wait days, or often weeks, until they receive the card in the mail.

A woman seeking asylum who participated in one of our consultations told us about her struggles in renewing her Medicare card while holding bridging visas valid for only 28 days. Many times, she would receive her Medicare card just days before her visa expired, and then had to go back and get yet another card.

People also have been refused a new Medicare card because Medicare staff wrongly think their identification card (Immicard) has expired, not knowing that they need to check the person’s visa status online. People’s experiences have differed greatly depending on the Medicare office they use, as some Medicare workers are unfamiliar with dealing with people seeking asylum.

Gaps in Medicare access can have profound impacts on people with serious health issues. People who are on a treatment plan suddenly cannot visit their doctor and continue with the treatment unless they pay hundreds of dollars.

People seeking asylum are also not eligible for a Low Income Healthcare Card. This means that they have to pay the full cost of medications if they are not on the SRSS program. For those with chronic physical health issues, this can add up to thousands of dollars a month.

People who come by plane on another visa (for example, students) and then seek asylum are often on bridging visas without access to Medicare. These people need to pay the full cost of healthcare and medications, unless they can get access to SRSS.

Jayantika’s case illustrates the impact of this policy: Jayantika is a single mother who has a 10-year old son. They arrived in Australia by plane a few years ago. They are not eligible for Medicare and their applications for SRSS support have been refused because they are waiting for a court decision.

Jayantika tries to support her son by working a few days a week. However her ability to work has significantly decreased in recent months because of her health issues. She has been diagnosed with a heart condition and has been told she needs surgery which will cost about $9,000.

Jayantika is constantly worried and cannot sleep at nights. She is not able to afford the cost of surgery and is worried about the future of her son if her heart fails. Even if she manages to borrow money to undergo surgery, she does not have anyone to look after her son when she is in hospital. She does not know how they can survive when she is recovering from surgery and how she can repay her debt.

She says:

I keep telling my son ‘we will fix everything one day’ but immigration keeps refusing our visa, keep denying us support. I feel dead inside, I feel nothing.

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